Our Experience with Skype

Why It Will Work for Some and Not for Others

A few days ago, I made an offhand reference to using Skype to nearly eliminate the cost of a land line phone at home. A surprisingly large number of readers were curious about this and wrote in with interesting questions of all kinds, so I thought I’d walk through what Skype is, how we use it, and why it might work for you in some situations but not in others.

Everything You Need to Know About Skype

skype

What is Skype?

Skype is a service that allows you to use your computer and high-speed internet connection at home to place telephone calls anywhere in the world for a very cheap price. The plan we’re testing, for example, allows us to make unlimited calls within the United States and Canada (both land line and mobile phones) and an hour’s worth of international calls each month for $2.95, plus unlimited free calls to anyone with a Skype account and their computer turned on. If you want to buy an entire year’s worth, you can get a year’s worth of unlimited free long distance in the United States and Canada for $14.95.

It’s not a scam, it’s completely legit. Skype just uses the internet instead of the telephone system to send phone calls.

Are there any drawbacks?

There are several, and their severity depends on your situation. For us, they’re pretty minor.

1. This service only allows you to make calls out

For calls in, you have to pay for an additional service, called SkypeIn, that gives you a phone number. Calls to that phone number will pop up on your computer like an instant messenger window – you just click answer and you’re good to go.

2. You need a microphone of some sort to hear your speaking.

I originally used an old Bluetooth headset (headphones with a voice mic that connected easily to my computer), then later I started using a webcam for this purpose. The point is you need some sort of microphone to pick up what you’re speaking and speakers or headphones to play it back to you. Yes, this would mean you’d sit at your computer and carry on a conversation near it without an actual telephone. If you want to actually use a telephone-like device, they make those as well, but there’s an additional cost. We have one and it works well throughout our house – it pretty much functions like a normal telephone.

3. The voice quality is almost always great, but sometimes breaks up

It depends entirely on the quality of your internet connection. I have never had a call break up at all, but others with low-speed connections or poor internet providers.

Can I use it to replace my home phone?

1. You would need a high-quality internet connection

If you can’t just get internet without phone in your area, then Skype won’t really benefit you unless you’re making a lot of long distance calls and would just use this to save on long distance. If you can get internet without phone, that’s an even bigger bonus for using Skype – you save money automatically each month. Your internet connection must be a fairly high quality one, though, or else calls will be choppy. One way to try it out is to download Skype and play with the free service to see if it works for you.

2. You would need a method to speak and receive the voice data from Skype

This means either a microphone or webcam and computer speakers or headphones or a wireless Skype phone (like this one). Hopefully, you already have at least one of these options.

3. You actually need the Skype program and an account

There – it’s a lot like instant messenger, so if you can use your instant messenger program, Skype’s not hard to figure out. It’s auto-detected every device I’ve tried to use with it without skipping a beat – I just ran Skype and it identified the items.

4. Unless you have a very expensive Skype-only telephone, Skype requires your computer to be on and connected to the internet

That means there is an energy cost. You can mitigate this by using some clever tactics to reduce home computer energy use, but if your computer’s not on, you can’t receive or make calls. That’s a varying-level drawback depending on your lifestyle.

If all of these requirements fit you, Skype can save you quite a bit of money

Even just on long distance charges or minutes on your cell phone. If you’re around the house and have a strong internet connection, it’s essentially unlimited long distance to the United States and Canada for $14.95 a year – that’s a great bargain.

Are you using it?

Yes, indeed. My wife and I have started using it a lot at home. I’m sold and am ready to drop our land line to use only Skype, but my wife isn’t quite there yet, mostly because it seems like such a strange concept and she wants a longer test period – plus, she’s not used it nearly as much as I have. My calculation is that this drop will save us about $45 a month when we actually go forward with it, which I believe is just a matter of time until my wife is comfortable enough with it (I’m letting her make the call entirely herself, based on her own judgement – she knows I’m ready to switch, so we’ll switch when she’s ready).

Skype is an option well worth considering, especially if you’re a heavy phone user. Each situation is different, but if you have the things necessary (most importantly, a high speed connection at home), you can eliminate a land line and/or save a lot of minutes on your cell phone package by using Skype.

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  1. Frugal Dad says:

    I’ve been curious about Skype for some time now – thanks for breaking down the pros and cons here. I still wonder if in our situation we wouldn’t be better off simply using our cell phone. Our long distance is minimal, and the majority of our local contacts are on the same network (in-network calling is included with our plan). If those patterns change I will certainly keep Skype in mind.

  2. Erin says:

    What if your office is in your home and you need a seperate fax line?

  3. AlainaOfArc says:

    My boyfriend and I have been using the free, Skype-to-Skype calling since September to talk to each other every night. At the moment, he lives 2 hours away and we only see each other on week-ends. Having this program has no doubt saved us tons of money on our daily hour-long conversations, and since we both have web cams, we get to see each other too!
    For a while they had a free trial period, and I used it to call my dad regularly. He said the quality was no different than a cell phone (which is all that I had at the time).
    I would definitely pay to use it again, if the decision to get rid of the landline were up to me.

  4. DB says:

    All these new-fangled techno-gizmos sound great. Unfortunately, where I live we can’t even get cable tv, cable internet, high speed internet, etc. We’re suck with super-low-speed dial-up. Skype would definitely NOT be an option. Heck, even our cell phone service dies out just as we pull into our driveway!

    Living in the boondocks definitely has its advantages (peace, quiet, serenity, no neighbors nearby, etc) and we thoroughly enjoy our wooded 20 acres (we heat exlusively with wood I cut and haven’t paid a dime to the power company for heat in three years), but there are disadvantages, too.

  5. Marcin Aka Cinek says:

    Skype Is great I bought a philips phone VOIP841 FOR ABOUT $150. This is a top of the line phone that is out. It is connected to a router not a PC so my PC does not have be be on. Let me tell you its worth every penny works like a charm. So now friends call me on my skype throught their computer, I’m always on. Family from my country call me when they need me free for them free for me. (except the internet). I also use it for my business as a secount line did I mention $3 a month can’t beat that. Also If I go away on vacation all you need is an internet connection and I can call my mother FREE from any country. So let me tell you skype is the WAY to GO. Hope this helps. Did I tell you people get impressed by it when they come over o thats a nice phone I say its not a phone its SKYPE. :) Did I mention you can connect a regualr phone line to this thing. So you have skype and regualr phone. :)

  6. mbkonef says:

    You don’t mention this but I guess you would not be able to make or receive phone calls in the event of a power outage (unless you had some sort of backup generator). Also, in our area they can use the standard phone line to trace emergency calls ie. if someone dialed 911 but couldn’t speak, they could trace the location of the call. I am guessing that they could not do this with Skype. I am not ready to make the jump to this kind of system yet but would consider it in the future and just keep the bare minimum of service on my landline for emergencies. Yes, I know you could still use your cell but with an extended power outage (our area had one for several days last summer) you would have the problem of charging the cell.

  7. Ryan says:

    Skype doesn’t allow you to call 911 at all…unless things have changed since I used it.

    This isn’t a big deal to me though…my cell phone is usually on me at all times.

  8. L says:

    @ Erin, why don’t you try an internet based fax service such as efax or myfax? Added bonus- save paper by only printing the essential faxes and reading the rest on the computer.

  9. BethBeth says:

    I want to cut out my landline, but then the thought of no emergency phone (if using Skype or cell phone) if there is no electricity really concerns me. I haven’t been able to get past that thought. Does anybody have an answer to that concern?

  10. JimmyDaGeek says:

    I have used Skype on my DSL connection, and found it to be spotty.

    I keep a landline because:
    1) The phone company powers it so it works in a blackout
    2) 911 calls are tied directly to it
    3) Our family doesn’t talk all that much to that many people all over the US and Canada.
    4) We use the landline as our main line.
    5) We use basic cellphone service.

  11. Mike says:

    I don’t have any experience with Skype, but for those people worried about 911 service, Vonage will tie 911 to your phone line. Vonage is a VOIP service similar to Skype. It costs a bit more ($25 a month, I think) but you can use your existing house phones to make a call, and aren’t tied to your pc.

  12. st says:

    BethBeth: Yes, a cheap pay as you go cell phone.

  13. Marcin Aka Cinek says:

    You can call 911 from your cell… I always do if I see an emergency. Even if its in my place of business.

  14. ZerCool says:

    911 should be a major concern if you’re considering a full switch to Skype. I don’t use it and don’t know what their policies are for 911 calls, but I know the 911 center in my area has issues with Vonage calls on a regular basis – something about the databases not being updated appropriately.

    If you have an internet or power outage, Skype is gone. Cell phones may not be reliable in an extended outage. That hardline will always be there – just remember to have a non-cordless phone!

  15. slb says:

    Another thing to consider as a parent, when you have a babysitter, is making sure your sitter knows exactly how to call out in an emergency. We have thought about going exclusively to cells, but with children, we want emergency access to be kid-friendly, even more so as they get to be old enough to stay at home alone.

  16. scott says:

    Amazingly I’m looking at this exact same thing right now. Currently I don’t have a home phone, live alone so what’s the use. I regularly spend a few hours on the phone a day.
    My cell phone has gotten more expensive than I’d like. I have a plan that unlimited nights and weekends start at 9, so its pretty impractical. I end up spending anywhere from 65 at the lowest that includes unlimited text messages to about 120 last month because of talk time.

    Skype gives me unlimited talk time inside the US for 2.95 a month, add the skype in I think thats another 3 or 4 bucks a month.
    The only issue is emergencies and when traveling or on the road.
    I’m trying to find a good solution in the prepaid market to handle that but its all very iffy to me and conditional. Would be nice to see what other people think about prepaid vs contract phones. And if there are phones, especially in the US that don’t have strange conditions.

  17. Trent says:

    Here’s some discussion about Skype and 911 from the official Skype forums (and an EXCELLENT solution):

    http://forum.skype.com/lofiversion/index.php/t18021.html

  18. Andy says:

    I was considering this, but I think I will just try to go with my cell phone for all calls. I want a cell phone but I don’t do extensive talking, so I can get by on the cheaper plans.

  19. !wanda says:

    My cell phone battery lasts for days. If the power were out for that long, it would only be the result of some major disaster, and then I wouldn’t really expect my city’s emergency services to be functioning smoothly either.

  20. gwen says:

    I use Vonage. I can get a number that is where my family is (Indiana) and then it is a free call for them. Vonage has a 911 plan, as well as not having to have my computer on. You simply set the address where the phone is. My calls can get forwarded to any other phone, cheap rates to Europe and all incoming calls are free, as well as Vonage to Vonage. I also take the router with me when I travel and have my phone with me.

    For a fax, I believe you can get an additional fax line for $5/month or so.

    In the begining, there were some problems with clarity/customer service, but those have all disappeared. I’ve not had any problems with them for over 3 years.

    Also, if you plug a phone into the wall when you don’t have Verizon, I believe that they still require 911 service.

  21. nICK says:

    For all of those worried about 911 calls, remember that you cannot call 911 from Skype. For emergency calls you should have an old school wired telephone hooked up to a phone jack. In a power outage it still works and by law you can call 911 from that wired phone for free. No telephone service necessary. A wired telephone is a must for ALL homes, Skype or not.

  22. Yep, you gotta remember: landlines work when online and mobiles don’t. Even in power cuts, mobiles may be okay, but the radio towers for mobile phones may only have limited back up or none at all, if the power goes out. Also, in a disaster mobile phone lines can be quickly used up by outgoing calls making it impossible for you to call out. Such saturation DOES occur.

    Keep the landline, cut the out of state calls and you can save a little less money, but have a little more peace of mind.

    Kenneth

  23. Rich says:

    The level of 911 varies a lot across the country and the way calls are routed. Cell phones and VOIP are supposed to be transferring to enhanced 911 but have been slow to do so.

    Not all services present the correct address when you call from VOIP or cell. Frequently, in a stressful emergency, children and even adults have trouble giving their address. With the land line, the dispatch center already has your address, routing maps and photo of your home before they even pick up the phone.

    If you are going to go with VOIP or cell only, I recommend that you call your local fire or police (look up their non-emergency line) and request to do a 911 test call. They will tell you yes or no depending on how busy they are. They may give you a time to call back at.

    Personally, I would keep the land line and move the billing entry into the insurance category of your budget.

  24. BB says:

    Have been lurking for some time and I think your site is great!

    Skype doesn’t do E-911 service–check the skype website, it’s made quite clear there, IMO.
    Power: only works when you got juice at home. Can do a UPS if worried about it.
    I use the bejesus out of Skype–I use the pre-paid cards from Wal-Mart. $36/year for unlimited OUTBOUND calls anywhere in the US and Canada. Call quality can get choppy is using other bandwidth intensive programs; so, fore-warned is fore-armed….
    I’ve tried crunching numbers on every phone service option I can find–cell phone plans of every stripe, landline plans, (hard-wired AC converter in car w/ wireless broadband & computer in car to use skype via personal mobile hot-spot), but to no avail. Skype has best price point & convenience for me.
    Skype doesn’t do fax in my experience (not for lack of trying)–check http://drop/io for sending faxes. Interesting concept.

    Again, great site, and keep up the great work!

  25. Ellis Benus says:

    I am not using it for a telephone yet, but I am on my way to doing so.

    My wife and I do not use our cell phones enough to justify the $100 / month they are costing us. Also, my wife usually leaves her cell in the purse or call when at home and NEVER ANSWERS! So I am planning to purchase the SkypeIn service as well as the stand alone cordless phone. (I will probably hook it up to a 100db horn so she hears the phone ring! :} )

    While you say “very expensive phone device” I say I can drop my cell phones to pay as you go service, and in two months the Skype phone will pay for itself… But that’s just me.

    Great article, I just found your blog a few days ago and have truly enjoyed reading.

  26. sean98125 says:

    The peace of mind of having a phone that I can use when every other phone network is down is worth whatever extra money I have to pay. I’ve got a three-year-old at home and live in a place where the power goes out a couple of times a year. We just pull out the old $14.95 corded phone and plug it in to the wall and we can keep in touch with emergency services and the utility company.

    I’ll never give up the landline. My family’s safety is too important to me to do that.

  27. Jason says:

    An alternative to Skype is magicJack. For about $40 to purchase a plug for your USB for the first year service and $19.95 per year thereafter, you get free local and long distance, free phone number, free caller Id, free call waiting, free voicemail, and free directory assistance. The best part I like about it is that you can connect a regular phone to it. It works great and just like a regular phone. You dial on your regular phone just like a land line. My aunt was working in Russia and was able to establish a phone number in her hometown in Mississippi so her family was able to call as if she were local. magicJack also solves the problem of 911 services because you can register it so the emergency services have your phone number. Of course if your broadband is not working than this obviously will not work. Clark Howard has been recommending this product for years and I have to agree that is a great product.
    http://www.magicjack.com/

  28. Michael G.R. says:

    I’ve been using skype quite a bit, mostly for work (IM and voice chats). Works great. highly recommended, and the more people switch, the more competitive pressure there will be on traditional telecoms to improve their service and reduce their ridiculous prices.

  29. atlas says:

    We use VoiceEclipse, which is the same thing as Vonage, except it costs half as much. Its only $12.99/month

  30. Sally says:

    I’m going to use Skype because I need a “land line” for two reasons:

    -Just case something weird happens and I don’t want to run out of minutes on my cell phone for local calls during the day. (This hasn’t been a problem so far.)

    -I want a number to give people I don’t really want to talk to.

  31. Danny says:

    You can also get a USB box like this:
    http://www.von-phone.com/usb_skype_phone_adapter.php

    It hooks up to a regular land line phone and lets you use it for Skype.

    We use Skype for our long distance, it saves a ton of money. If our rural area had better Internet connections, we would get SkypeIn as well and use that as our only phone.

  32. tbrock says:

    All skype really needs to do is figure out a way for it to work on the iPhone…that would be the beginning of the true skype revolution…

  33. Mark B. says:

    911 is a major concern. Even if you use the workaround in the link that Trent referenced there are many dangers. What if your computer is off when the emergency occurs? You have to wait for it to boot up to make the call? They still do not know your address…..etc.

    I use my cell phone for all calls, but I maintain a basic landline for 911 purposes only. I have two young children, I am not taking any chances to save a few bucks each month. Dialing 911 on a landline phone is one of the greates protections we have in this country. You can dial 911 and set the phone down and police/fire will be at your door in minutes.

  34. BB says:

    For “free” inbound calls, how about Gizmo5 + GrandCentral?
    –You’ll need a valid cell number or landline number in order to set up your GrandCentral number.–

    Gizmo5: http://gizmo5.com/pc/download/
    GrandCentral: http://www.grandcentral.com/

    You’ll have to run everything through your computer–just like Skype–but now, people will have a way to call you for no charge to you (unlike a SkypeIn number).
    So, you can use the Skype option for calling out for approx. $36/year (4 each prepaid cards at $9 each from Wal-mart). People can call you (at no charge to you) using your GrandCentral number which forwards to your Gizmo5 SIP number. Also, GrandCentral can handle your voicemail for no charge–sound files in your email. Gizmo5 can do the same depending on your settings.

    No E911 Service through this option.

  35. aMotherSite says:

    SKYPE for both incoming & Out going calls for about $6.00 per month.
    We have skype for our phone line. I will have another phone in the house plugged in soon for 911 (even a “dead” line is suppose to transmit 911 calls). We use a cable modem for our internet so we don’t have a need for a land line.

    For our cell service we use prepaid for about $130 each per year for about 800 minutes.

    So far the service has been OK. For the cost each month, it has been worth it.

    My husband created a script to close down the popup questions after a call so we don’t have to watch the computer all the time (http://www.yorkspace.com/2008/03/126 ).

  36. kathryn says:

    My daughter has used Skype-to-Skype to stay in touch with a friend in Europe and used an old headset mic we had around (from an earlier attempt at voice dictation software.)

    Now she’d like to upgrade to a webcam. Do have any recommendations? (Apple or Windows…or are they interchangeable?)

    – K.

  37. Paul says:

    I’ll echo many above, Skype is great if you call long-distance and don’t normally use a cellphone plan for long-distance calls.

    I suggest keeping a bare-bones landline in order to have 911 service & a phone that works during a power outage, and using a Skype phone (such as the Philips 841) for long-distance, and as a second line.

    Plus we only pay for Skype minutes as we go, and are spending less than we would, even if we were using the $2.95/mo. plan!

  38. Eden says:

    It’s very tempting, and I would love to cut services off of my monthly cable bill, but the 911 land line issue is one I can’t get past. Even with the workaround, Internet service is not all that reliable- can’t even compare it to a land line phone.

  39. George says:

    Y’all are too attached to your phones, Skype or not! :-)

  40. Marcus Murphy says:

    As far as the whole 911 goes read this article on an infant who died because parents used VOIP that did not support emergency services.

    http://www.cbc.ca/canada/calgary/story/2008/05/02/crtc-voip.html

    Basically they called 911 said their baby was not breathing. Half an hour later they used the neighbors phone because no ambulance had shown up and EMS arrived in 6 minutes. The baby was pronounced dead at the hospital. It was later found out that an ambulance was sent to the wrong house.

    Is your baby’s (or anyone else’s for that matter) life worth $200/yr?

  41. Melissa says:

    As usual, excellent discussion both in your presentation and in the comments – thank you!

  42. Owen says:

    Come check out some of the articles at VoIP News – we cover all these issues and many more.

    First – 911 – not on skype but it is available with other VoIP services. However – many people have issues with Vonage. You can find out more about Vonage and the alternatives at our http://www.voip-news.com site.

    Second, while it is true that there is an issue with power outages – most people actually use handset phones now that are also plugged in to the wall – guess what – they go out when the power is out too. You only get a powered phone line with a very old fashioned phone. But otherwise this is a good point.

    Third – even with Skype In (the service to have calls come in) this can be a good deal.

    Fourth – you can get good wifi skype phones for a little over $100 now (Belkin makes a decent one) so if you have wifi at home then you have an easy non-computer always on solution for skype.

    Fifth – you can do video calls with skype if you have a webcam – nice extra.

    Sixth – Skype is HUGE outside the US – if you call overseas very much at all it is a great deal.

    FWIW I did the halfway house thing and got rid of the land line but I use a more expensive voip service called Lingo – more reliable and cheaper than Vonage – plus I can call 40 countries worldwide for free.

    I would consider cell only – except that call reception at our house is horrible – for all brands.

    Some other things to note. all voip services- including Skype have extras – you can get online phone records. you can get hugely powerful and extended voicemail, call recording, easy three way and conference calls, and a lot more. For some people it is these extra features that make it all worthwhile.

    Some other benefits of Skype: very fast person to person file transfer. Good IM/chat. ability to transfer money person to person via paypal while on a call. there’s more…her’s one of our articles on lot sof other things you can do with Skype
    http://www.voip-news.com/feature/hacking-skype-020607/

  43. Lisa says:

    We have been without a landline for just over 2 years now. I was just so sick of paying so much for something I used less than once per week. If the landline rang, it was always someone selling something or asking for a donation. Friends & family know my cell number.

    We use the cheapest possible Verizon cell phone family plan. We have the GPS Locators on so that if a 911 call is ever made, our local police can track us down, should we be unable to talk or not know where we are, to within 50-100m (your town may be different). We leave a cell phone with the baby sitter. We are used to carrying our cell phones with us, though not in our pockets for fear of the unknown.

    Finally, we use Skype daily to speak with family all around the globe. When out of the country for 5 months, I read bedtime stories to my 4-year old EVERY night using the webcam. We also use Skype extensively for work collaborations.

    We all have Macs so they have built in webcams. I live in a city where various internet speeds are available. I love SKYPE.

  44. Trent says:

    Lisa: “We all have Macs so they have built in webcams.”

    Just to quickly clarify for potential Mac users, this is true for almost all new Mac laptops, but not for the desktops. My desktop Mac Mini works just fine with a very cheap Logitech webcam, though.

  45. Looby says:

    @ Marcus Murphy- I’m not sure that that story is particularly relevant in this case, it has been stated in this thread that you shouldn’t use VOIP for emergency calls and the details of the story are very odd; why would you not confirm your address with the 911 operator if you are able to speak, did they not ask for confirmation? They should. Also why wait 30 minutes before calling again? If you notice the article states that they are waiting to hear the original recording they are not already blaming it on the VOIP system. Also there is no evidence that the delay made any difference to the child’s outcome.
    This is a terribly sad story but there is no point in insinuating that the family’s “cheapness” led to the child’s death.

  46. Michael says:

    Why do we rely so much on 911?

  47. Shevy says:

    Just my .02 on Skype…

    First, I would love to get rid of our landline and save the money but neither using a “home phone” from our local cable provider or Skype really fills me with confidence for all the reasons detailed above. I was also shocked to read that it doesn’t provide incoming calls and that that would be an extra (albeit small) cost.

    The other thing is that my experience with Skype, on the receiving end of calls, is not that great. One of our national executive officers on the opposite coast is a strong proponent of Skype and uses it for his long distance calls.

    Every time he calls it sounds like he’s using a tin can phone or is calling from the bottom of a well. He has a great computer and a good high speed connection, so that can’t be why he sounds so awful.

    I just wouldn’t be comfortable going to this or a similar VOIP system until my concerns are addressed to my satisfaction, especially since my cell phone reception is extremely spotty at both my homes (one in a major metropolitan area, the other in a rural region).

    As an aside, I don’t see how a dead phone (one with no dial tone) can access 911. Are people perhaps confusing this with the often-repeated advice to keep an old (charged) cell phone in the car because it will access 911 in an emergency even if you don’t currently have a plan on the phone?

  48. Aryn says:

    As someone said above, cell phones aren’t fully reliable in a major extended emergency, like a tornado, hurricane, or earthquake. I believe most landline telephone wires are underground now, so they can continue to work in an emergency. And make sure you have a corded phone for those emergencies. Cordless phones don’t work without power either!

    We live in SoCal, so we’ll always have a cheap landline phone for emergency/disaster calls.

  49. sylrayj says:

    I’m lucky. We use the free version for what we need.

  50. Marcus Murphy says:

    @Looby It costs me roughly $11/mo. to have basic service for my local area.

    The point is, is that VOIP relies on a digital signal that does not have any way to relay your physical address. Being digital it also relies on power and the power grid being up. It also relies on call centers to relay you to the proper 911 dispatch.

    With an Analog signal, you don’t have to worry about power. You also are immediately directed to the dispatch center closest to you, and your address and a callback number are immediately available to them as soon as your call is picked up.

    The point is that you should weigh heavily whether or not VOIP is the right choice based on your own needs. You need to weigh your risk. For me I make all long distance calls with my cell phone, as I have enough minutes. Local calls are made with my $11/mo service. I don’t do enough national & international calling to justify the need for a VOIP service especially since the savings isn’t really there compared to the risk I am exposed to. I’m just making it a bit more obvious for everyone else too. Especially since Trent posted a workaround that still doesn’t address the issues I posted above. That may work for some but not everyone. The choice is yours ;)

  51. Bill says:

    There’s no guarantee landlines will have power indefinitely in an emergency.

    Especially in newer neighborhoods, passive fiber connects the central office to a big box sited on the utility right of way for that development.

    That box routes calls from the fiber to the copper wire at the house, but relies on utility power,

    It has limited battery backup, and the phone company is supposed to send out gensets to keep that box running in the event of an extended power outage.

    The reality, however, is that in a Katrina-level disaster, the phone company is more concerned with emergency services (hospital, fire/police station) than with your home.

  52. Anne says:

    I don’t have a landline at home (only cell phone) and know there are risks in emergencies, but I think that Skype as my main phone would never work for me.

    How much electricity do you use and money do you spend leaving your computer on all the time for access to Skype? And if you turn it off, then you’ve got an access issue in case of immediate emergency, like someone else mentioned. There are issues with that workaround anyway, namely that your Skype number is not traceable to an address like your home number. I’m sure this will change over time, as more people move to VOIP services, but it’s too soon to rely on a computer-based phone I think.

    That said, Skype IS great for international computer-computer “calls,” what a money-saver it was to call the U.S. from Italy!

  53. Chinook says:

    Below is a link to a possible problem with relying on any VoIP phone system. Many other mentioned the issue of 911 compatability and, recently, in Calgary, Canada, an ambulance was sent to the wrong address, 2 time zones/3 provinces away, because the users change of address for billing purposes ahd not been updated in their 911 information (the ambulance came within minutes when called from a neighbour’s landline).

    I take this more as a “buyer beware” caveat than a reason not to use Skype. New technology means new SNAFUs will exist.

    Here is the news article: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/calgary/story/2008/04/30/calgary-toddler.html

  54. Chiara says:

    If someone else mentioned this, I missed it: if you have a monitored home security system, in most cases it needs a landline. I keep running into this problem every time I get tempted to try an internet or cable-based phone. I heard of one security company that is working with them, but it is significantly more expensive than what we’ve got. If it weren’t for that, we would be on cell phones exclusively.

    What I want to know is, how do you get bare bones service for $11??? I would do that in a hot second, but I haven’t been able to wrangle it out of Bellsouth or MCI.

  55. Dan says:

    Here in the UK, one of the mobile networks (3) sells a mobile Skype handset. If you have the minimum contract (£12 a month) or a PAYG that you put £10 or more on per month, you can use the built in Skype client to call Skype-to-Skype, including someone with a similar handset, for free, using the 3G network. You can also use Skype Chat (again, for free) instead of SMS, with the added bonus that your chat sessions are recorded and available when you get back to your computer.

    There is a fair usage limit (4,000 minutes a month, I believe), but you’d have to be going it some to hit that.

  56. erika says:

    We use Skype as our main phone at home. We have also convinced a couple of our out-of-town relatives to get Skype with a web cam. We all have kids the same age and we make frequent (free) video phone calls back and forth. One drawback mentioned above is that you can’t make emergency phone calls using Skype (i.e.: can’t call 911). We’ve kept our paygo cell phone for that reason. Basic landline service in our area is around $20/month after all the taxes and added fees. We don’t use the phone enough to justify that cost.

  57. Lurker Carl says:

    Many companies offer a basic and inexpensive landline phone service. The price they advertise is without any of the taxes and fees associated with the service which increases the real price by a hefty percentage. But if you request that barebones phone service, the phone company may tell you it isn’t available in your area.

  58. Marcus Murphy says:

    @Chiara

    For $11 service:
    https://swot.sbc.com/swot/telcoProductDetail.do?productOfferId=155497

    Also if you just need it for your alarm and you are in a ZUM 3 area it gets better at $3/mo:
    https://swot.sbc.com/swot/telcoProductDetail.do?productOfferId=96

    Not sure if this service falls in your area, but it does mine. Hopefully this helps other people as well.

  59. Tonia says:

    We live in Mexico and are thrilled to be able to use Skype. ALL of our family lives in the US. We can call our loved ones at a nominal cost of just over 2 cents a minute and they can call us on our US number without paying international fees. We can take care of business in the US also at the same rate.

    We have an inexpensive Mexican landline that provides us with our DSL connection and all of our local and in-country calling needs.

    We love Skype also and wish we could convince our adult kids to get on the bandwagon!!

  60. Tammy says:

    We have recently started using Skype as well and we love it.

    We did drop our landline and this saves us an additional $70.00 per month as we were paying for unlimited long distance and all of the other extras.

    Now I just need to convince other family members to get and use Skype!

  61. Tim says:

    I’ve been using Skype for about 3 years to talk to my parents who live out of the country. It’s wonderfull! It’s saved me much $$$$$. They also have good forums with other unique applications you can do with Skype.

    Try this: create a dummy account on a computer with a camera. Log into the account and leave computer running. Use a different computer and log into your regular account. Call the dummy account. Instant remote viewing, if you want to check on a sitter or the house.

  62. wisnjc says:

    We’ve used Skype for years — first when they allowed free calls to any number in the US, and now using free Skype to Skype. However, we are committed to having landline service for our DSL. Therefore, we have found the cheapest option for our long distance phone service is from http://www.pioneertelephone.net. In our area, Pioneer offers 1.9 cents/min in-state rates and 2.7 cents/min inter-state calls 24/7. I was skeptical at first, but we’ve been with them for over 3 years and have experienced excellent call quality and accurate, online billing with no hidden fees. For those like us who aren’t phone-hogs, but would like a good rate for long distance phone calls without an expensive plan from the major carriers, I suggest you give Pioneer a try. FYI — I have no relationship to Pioneer other than a satisfied customer.

  63. Kati says:

    My husband is deployed and we use skype to talk. Sometimes its spotty but thats because the interent there can be slow. But its far better than using the phones there, because they have like a 4 second delay.

  64. Carrie says:

    I live in London and have a US SKYPE In number with voicemail which I will keep always. Many of the services (doctor, dentist, etc.) I still in the US are not allowed to make international calls but they can call and leave a message to my SkypeIn number. I was never able to get the Linksys phone to work properly with Skype but hope I do when I return to the US. I use Skype mainly on my desktop but when I am travelling I use it on my laptop (have a small travelling headset). No matter where I move, I will have always have a phone number with Skype In. I keep a landline for emergency calls. I also use Skype Out for calls to countries not covered by my £5 per month Sky TV plan.

  65. Justin says:

    …long time listener, first time caller, great topic, love the show…

    I have used Skype for a couple years for long distance and international calls. I still prefer my barebones landline for most but not all local calls. I have young kids in the house, and I want whoever needs access to 911 in an emergency to have it. I don’t want to train babysitters to use my skype phone. 911 from phone company just plain works better and is more reliable than any voip service.

    The only other complaint I have with Skype that I haven’t seen mentioned in the comments is the lack of caller id. When I make a call with SkypeOut to someone who has caller id service – my number doesn’t show up (instead, they get something like 0000000123). There have been several times when I’ve had to leave messages because people who know me think I am a telemarketer or some other devious person. Then I have to wait for a call back.

    If it wasn’t for this hitch, I would probably invest in a wifi phone for in-house use instead of using my computer. I think given its global positioning, Skype has the inside track on this kind of service (not to mention ebay’s money and vonage’s legal issues). However, I’m not convinced they’ll pull it off because caller-id seems like a trivial issue they just can’t seem to resolve. I think some other outfit may replace them soon enough, and I’d hate to have spent $100+ on a phone and then have it be no good.

    FWIT, our house also has two PAYG cell phones.

  66. Dennis says:

    My wife and I took a class from the red cross, they recommend that every household has a land line. In the San Francisco bay area calling 911 on your cell phone will route to the CHP ( california highway patrol ) switchboard in Vallejo, CA for all calls. Can you imagine how long it will take for that person to send in the local help to aid you? it could be an extra 45 – 60 seconds. Also what happens if your cell phone network is having a heavy usage day and you can’t get through. With a landline, 911 is routed to your local switchboard. There are ways to curve your landline costs, refuse to have any long distance service.. you don’t need it if you have a cell phone. Remove any fancy features from your land line including call waiting .. Nope, not going to do it. I’m really bad with keeping my batteries charged on my cell phone , too.

  67. M says:

    Has anybody used MagicJack?????

  68. Tamer Rashdan says:

    I have and love Magic Jack, it comes with unlimited calls to the US and Canada, it’s portable you can take overseas and use it anywhere, it costs only $20/year
    The quality is as good as your Internet connection quality

  69. Jenille says:

    Trent,

    Have you heard of ooma? I’m looking into this and their disappearing monthly bill! Google it. So far, a lot of good reviews and Costco has a deal right now: $219 for the core unit and a Scout (whatever that it)…Care to talk about this in one of your posts?

    I love reading your blog! Esp sitting thru traffic! =)

  70. ChrisD says:

    I highly recommend keeping a landline, because if you have the right skype package (£10 per quarter) you can send calls from skype to your landline for free, receiving calls even when your computer is off or your internet is broken.

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