Tech Talk: Free and relatively easy

Why phone your friends when you can Skype them?
Why phone your friends when you can Skype them?
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Skype could help you call the shots, writes David Behrens.

IT’S often said that our streets aren’t safe for children any more, so perhaps it’s as well that so many of them seem content to stay in the house and Skype each other.

Skype is to today’s generation of youngsters what the telephone was to mine. The difference is that you can stay on it all day without it costing a penny, and without tying up the actual phone line.

What’s more, you can talk to several people at the same time, share with them whatever you’re working on and see as well as hear each other. It’s such a useful facility, in fact, that you start to wonder why we still bother with landlines.

But Skype does have a catch: because it uses the internet to transmit data, it requires you to be tethered to a computer, one way or another. That’s no problem for youngsters, of course; computers are their life support system. But for the rest of us, it makes the business of making a call suddenly less portable.

Since Skype became fashionable, there have been various attempts at marketing “dual band” handsets which look like regular cordless phones but are compatible also with internet calling. You can use these to call other landlines and mobile numbers, but calls are no longer free once you leave the Skype-to-Skype domain. Perhaps for this reason, none of these handsets has really caught on.

However, the one handset everyone has with them most of the time – your regular mobile phone – is also suitable for Skyping, and for pay-as-you-go users especially can work out cheaper than your standard tariff. You can make calls and send texts via Skype to any other phone, and you can instantly message other Skype users free. You will need to be hooked up to a wifi network to achieve this, though; otherwise data charges from your mobile operator will kick in.

It’s also worth noting that Skype can’t completely replace a regular phone and can’t, for instance, be used to make emergency calls. But if you’re in the habit of making regular calls from home to the same few people, anywhere in the world, Skype could save you money. So long as they’re connected to a smartphone, tablet or PC when you’re calling it’s entirely free.

If you’re using a PC you’ll need a microphone and preferably a webcam, which can be picked up for a few pounds, and the Skype app, which is free to download. Not paying for phone calls is surprisingly liberating, and before long you could find yourself out-talking the teens in your household.