Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Voice Calls Over the Internet

I've found a free service which allows you to receive phone calls on your computer from land lines (regular phones). You get to pick a New York area code and a random number is assigned to you when you sign up. You get free voicemail, free incoming faxes and free incoming phone calls. You can check messages online or have them emailed to you. You can find out more or sign up at StanaPhone.com.

StanaPhone is still in beta testing, so don' expect it to be up and reliable 24x7 just yet. If you just want free voicemail and incoming fax, check out K7.net; very solid service, also free. I waited a bit to blog about this, but I finally got to test it.

Free voice conversations over the Internet are nothing new... my first such conversation utilized NetMeeting some time in the late 90's. While free, the converstation required two computers and a shared service, usually an Instant Messenger service such as Yahoo! or MSN.

Free PC-to-PC calls was made popular by services such as Skype... all users of Skype could call other users for free. These services started allowing users to dial out to real phone numbers for low rates, so a Skype user could call my cell phone, for example. Basically, "SkypeOut" became a cheap calling card for computer nerds. While computers could call real phones, the reverse was not possible until recently. Skype started testing "SkypeIn", a service allowing Skype users to receive calls for a monthly fee. As Skype puts it:
So, if you have a Chicago-based SkypeIn number, but you’re living somewhere in the suburbs of Paris, your Chicago area friends - or anyone! - can just dial your SkypeIn number, and your Skype on the other side of the world starts ringing... and your friends are only paying whatever their phone company charges them for making a phone call to Chicago.

In other words, if my parents were using Skype, I could call a local number and talk to them for Skype's monthly fee. That's great... but free is better, right? I don't know how StanaPhone will make money, but the service is free (for now). I'll be trying to talk my overseas friends into signing up, that's for sure.

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