VoIP service is a fickle beast. There are hundreds of different services, all offering something slightly different from the rest. So, for those looking for honestly free VoIP service, it might come as no surprise that finding the right one is not a straightforward task. Of course, most services are entirely free. Ignoring the branded ‘Home VoIP Phone Service” companies like Vonage and ViaTalk, there are plenty of simple applications that with the right equipment can help you bypass the big bad corporate giants.

Skype


Skype has been around for awhile now and is the best known and most popular of all VoIP services, paid or unpaid. With a simple download, users can start talking to any other Skype users in the world for free. The only catch is that the other user must have Skype installed and be talking from a computer. While Skype does allow users to call landlines, that’s where the charges start to come in. However, with a few years of successful service, easy to use software and decent call quality, Skype is a great free VoIP option.

VoIP Cheap
VoIPCheap is similar to Skype in that it is a simple software download that operates solely on the computer. However, VoIPCheap goes one step further in that it offers free phone calls to land telephone lines in many countries around the world. There are a few paid locations though and if you use more than 300 minutes on a single IP address in one week, fees will apply. However, for those with limited phone usage and friends in any of the countries they support, VoIPCheap does offer free calling.

Gizmo
Offering a very slick interface and a simple software download, Gizmo is similar to Skype in that it allows users a PC based calling application for use with any other Gizmo users. Additionally, their service allows users to place calls to other Gizmo users’ home and mobile phones with their “All Calls Free” plan. However, users should read through the terms of service here first as there are a variety of carefully worded clauses and rules that might result in fees being applied to your account.

Windows Live
Like many other Instant Messenger services offering voice chat, Windows Live is a straightforward and well crafted service. It allows any Windows Live members to talk with each other via Messenger for free for as long as they want. The only catch is that if a user decides to call a landline or mobile telephone number there are rates applicable. Also, those calls are expected to be kept under 5 minutes in length, making this is a less viable VoIP option, if looking to replace the home phone.

Raketu
Raketu is a relatively new service combining numerous concepts and services into a single site with a definitive image. Their site allows free calls between your computer and landlines/mobiles in 42 different countries. Additionally, users can use the relatively new and still in development TV streaming service that allows users to discuss television shows in real time. While everything is technically free on Raketu, you will be required to pay an upfront fee of $9.95 as a deposit before making any calls. This money is used to cover any calls you might make to a location not covered in their free calling list.

There are numerous other free applications in development or use at the moment that millions use at any given time. Google Talk currently offers only Voice Mail options, but has in the past and will likely in the future reintegrate VoIP service to its client. Yahoo! offers voice chat as well, though theirs is notoriously slow due to the high volume of their services. Regardless, there are plenty of options for those individuals looking to stay away from the high priced, unnecessary fees of the phone companies. If you’re interested in making free calls, a quick download and a new headset should be all you need.

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VoIP.com is one of the few original VoIP services that has found decent success and remains near the mid to top of the pack even today. A long time competitor of Vonage, VoIP.com has enjoyed prolonged success by offering slightly cheaper services, affordable international rates, and a decent selection of plans. However, recent months have seen the same kind of service degradation that threatens Vonage’s position in the Broadband VoIP market.

First the Good Stuff
VoIP.com has a nice selection of services to choose from. Upon initially visiting their website, you’re given the opportunity to make one free phone call from their webpage to get a feel for their call quality and service. The free call is what you could expect from a free call in terms of quality, but it is a nice touch when deciding who to work with.

Their international rates are all decently competitive, ranging between 1.7 cents for most of Europe and 15 cents for calls to India. Additionally, the standard plan, offering unlimited calls at $19.95 a month is a good deal and includes Canada. They also offer a yearly plan, reminiscent of SunRocket’s ill-fated annual upfront payments, for $199/year.

Offering many of the mainstay features that are hit and miss with other VoIP services, VoIP.com ensures that everything you need is in front of you. You’ll receive softphone support from your computer, a network phone adapter so you can use your existing telephone, and numerous standard features such as call waiting, caller ID, and enhanced 911.

Generally, VoIP.com has all of the necessary features covered and is on paper a solid experience. Their price points are competitive and they do not offer too many different plans so as to confuse potential customers. Customization is limited however and certain international rates – for countries not initially listed – can be slightly higher.

VOIP - Internet Telephone Service

And The Bad
Unfortunately, it is not the features or the plans that cause the most problems for VoIP.com customers. In recent months especially, complaints over service and quality have increased as the user base has grown. Foremost, VoIP.com is known for its relatively poor customer service. While many customers can expect some degree of indifference and slow response from a major corporation, VoIP.com has a habit of taking a decently long time to send necessary equipment in the mail and offers instructions that are rudimentary at best.

Certain steps in the setup process may require customer service assistance, another aspect of the company which is sorely lacking. With slow response and fuzzy answers that often serve to confuse users more than assist, VoIP.com will be a decent enough hassle just to set up and get started with.  Additionally, customers have complained repeatedly about shady cancellation fees and problematic service reports. Often, VoIP.com will claim service is working well when it is not, charging the fees regardless. It is possible to get fees refunded, but it is much harder than it should be if you decide to end your service prematurely.

Quality is largely hit or miss. The adaptor is a problem from the start, but for those that get it installed and working properly, the call quality is generally decent. However, for some individuals, call quality has been known to be sketchy at best, occasionally losing strength, signal or calls altogether.

The Bottom Line
VoIP.com has a few years and few hundred thousand customers under their belt to work with and learn from. Their plans and call quality are generally acceptable and for those that do not experience any problems that are considered out of the ordinary, VoIP.com will likely be a good choice that will work well as a home phone service.

Unfortunately, it is very rare that no problems out of the ordinary occur. For that reason, VoIP.com is hard to recommend over other services such as VIATalk or VoIP Your Life. With indifferent and sloppy customer service, poor equipment and unclear instructions, VoIP.com is a dice throw. While you could easily be pleased, you could just as easily end up angry and without phone service.

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In a Wall Street Journal article printed last Thursday, it was revealed that Google is in the midst of an extensive development cycle for a new mobile phone and is currently in the market for operators in the US and Europe to support the phone. Such a phone would not only support most standard Google features, but VoIP and other software applications as well.Another report from Anian, a derivative of Reuters, also announced that the smartphone is being developed on a Linux operated platform and will be partnered with T-Mobile in the U.S. and the French Company, Orange, in Europe, with a prospective 2008 launch.

However, Google has apparently also been courting AT&T and Verizon to sell phones with Google’s mobile services preinstalled.The main issue for many mobile companies though is Google’s revenue sharing demands, something many providers are not keen on. However, as it stands T-Mobile, Vodafone and AT&T all use Google search services to some degree. It is only a matter of what degree Google is seeking to alter the status quo.

As for the phone, Google has not made any announcements and of course refuses to comment on the stories, but has stated in the past that the wireless market is important and a field in which they plan to expand into. They have created a handful of prototypes and have talked with numerous companies including LG about specifications for the new mobile phone.

It is still unknown though whether Google will aim to release a single, iPhone-style smartphone to tackle the market. The reports are largely based on the technical developments Google is making that would allow for them to cash in on the expanding Mobile ad market, expected to be worth almost $2.2 billion by 2010.

All of the speculation will likely be cleared up by the end of the year if Google does in fact intend on releasing their own mobile phone in 2008. However, the real interest lies in how exactly Google will implement their phone plans. If it is in fact an original design crafted by Google, in the famous Google Labs, the obvious question is how many Google features will be implemented?

It’s likely a move that will allow Google to offer full integration of their services, something the mobile companies have long since been unwilling to allow. By building their own prototypes, Google can ensure that kind of control. The most interesting aspect though is the possibility of advanced features such as VoIP, with Google’s M.O. always revolving around innovation. While Apple bent to the pressure from AT&T and the weak data network on which it was released, the Google Phone could almost assuredly be expected to include some form or another of VoIP support, whether through Google Talk, the newly purchased Grand Central, or another revolutionary feature specially constructed by Google.

These are all rumors of course; something Google is very good at creating and circulating. However, even if there is no Google phone in development and Google is simply trying to scare the mobile companies into cooperating with them, it is likely that eventually we will see advanced Google features on cellular phones, including VoIP. The prospect of mobile ad revenue is such that offering free phone calls in exchange for listening to or watching a couple of ads would be a realistic inclusion very soon.

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Mobile VoIP has a couple of different means by which it can eventually break through that fated startup phase and become a mainstream reality in telecommunications. The first of those is for the phone companies to step forward and start offering integrated services for their customers that take advantage of cheaper, mobile broadband calling. While a couple of major companies are doing what they can to make this happen – Sprint and T-Mobile at the moment – the rest are still pondering their options and attempting to block third party VoIP support from their phones.

The second option however is much more appealing and with recent announcements surrounding Nokia’s E and N series phones and unlocked sales, it seems much more feasible. That is, phone manufacturers can start placing direct VoIP support on their phones in the concept and build phases as well as sell their phones unlocked out the door rather than relying on phone companies to package them with expensive rate plans.

Both aspects of the second option are more realistic now than ever. There are too many phones to get every one of them into a retail showroom for AT&T or Sprint and by combining VoIP support, phone manufacturers can start selling their wares independently, through technology sites, and cut out the middle man.

Truphone and Expansys
A recent partnership between Truphone’s VoIP service (famously having defeated T-Mobile’s recent blockages in England) and Expansys, an online retailer of smartphones from around the globe, will make it so that all capable smartphones sold through Expansys will include the Truphone application.Because the major mobile companies are not too keen on assisting in getting their customers set up with VoIP, it is necessary for the VoIP software companies to find a means for their software to get on those phones. With this kind of deal, Truphone will have an automatic install base and users can utilize the technology without having to jump through hoops and install it. Expansys’s typical customer base is that target demographic of high-end users with lots of technological clout and a desire to show it off. This means that the news will spread quickly, a smart move on both sides.

Whether or not the software and Truphone’s service catches on is entirely up to Truphone, assuming they can offer the kid of service that users become enamored with. The promise of much cheaper service rates and quality calls will lure most users to give it a shot. It’s up to Truphone to make them keep using it.  It remains to be seen if other VoIP providers and software companies will attempt to make the same sort of deal with companies like Expansys. Surely, if they do, the market for unlocked mobile smartphones will only increase as customization and preloaded options make them more user friendly and accessible than ever before.

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The current influx of new technologies for VoIP and Web 2.0 aficionados has made keeping track of who is worth checking out and who is not rather difficult. There are dozens of new services every week and each one has something “new” to offer that the others do not. There are certain issues in particular that new companies look to address. Five of these companies stand above the rest as possible next wave internet sensations.

Grand Central
Grand Central’s pull is an ability to link numerous phone numbers to a single account, so that whenever that account number is called, all of the phones listed in that account will ring simultaneously until one is picked up. The company uses the phrase “one phone number for life”, but really it’s a fancy way of connecting any future phone numbers you may get to a single central number. A GrandCentral account allows users to check their voice mail, make calling blocks, record live calls and much more.

Jangl
Similar to how Craigslist and other internet forums have made it possible to contact a user without actually knowing their email address, Jangl allows an individual to receive a phone call without their phone number being handed out to just anyone. Instead, a user with a Jangl account gives an email address attached to their account. The caller then enters the email address into Jangl and is given a masked, random phone number to call which will connect to the user who is trying to hide their true number. Jangl will then send the call through to your number or record a voice mail. Even if a user does not have a Jangl account, they will record the message and send the voice mail to the user’s email inbox. These features are being integrated into Social Networking profiles and blogs to allow users and commenters the ability to call you directly from a profile or webpage without you needing to reveal a phone number.

Jaxtr
Jaxtr allows both numbers to stay private. A user enters their own phone number into a widget posted on a website, blog or profile. Jaxtr then connects the user to the phone number associated with that widget, keeping both numbers private. At the moment, Jaxtra boasts more than 100,000 users and has a Facebook widget already in place with more than 6,000 users.

JAJAH
Similar to both Jangl and Jaxtr, JAJAH uses anonymous calling technology to connect two people over the internet. Users can decide how other users are permitted to contact them though, choosing only to allow voicemails during the day or emails during the evening. JAJAH also offers VoIP style service that connects you to any phone number via VoIP for 2.8 cents a minute.

TxtDrop
TxtDrop’s new service also relies on widgets, this time for text messaging users via the internet, utilizing the internet or Mac OS X and

Vista. The application asks for a name, phone number and message and the text message is delivered from the computer. The application supports multimedia messaging as well, though they are limited as to the service providers that support their application. This is only an example of dozens of other similar services. Facebook has two or three apps at this moment that do the same thing. The Pay Off
As to how these companies can honestly make money, it is a common question that few know the answer to quite yet. However, as Google recently purchased GrandCentral for $50 million and other companies are beginning to see revenue arrive from subscription based services and usage fees; the market for companies that solve real world problems is existent. It’s just a matter of proper application, necessary demand and quality product.

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