Monday 28 June 2010

In Praise of the Skype Telephone

A bit of light relief with a serious message: save money!

In "Praise of Skype" - what do you mean? Surely everyone knows about all the benefits of the web telephone system? Aren't you several years behind the times with this piece?

No - no - not Skype itself! I really do mean the Skype telephone. The hardware. An actual handset you can buy and have in your house or office.

What? You are joking aren't you? [scoffing noises] I mean that's sort of retro isn't it? Or rather, a technological sidestep into a cul de sac. Not something for the comms-savvy 21st century modern techie-type, surely?

No, I am perfectly serious. I have been converted. A year ago I would have agreed with you and probably laughed at the very idea. But it is all in the flexibility it offers, especially for the home environment. Having what looks like an 'old-fashioned' cordless telephone when you have Skype installed on your computer might seem silly and unnecessary, but really it is only like having the Skype App for your smart phone.

Flexibility? Now you are having a larf! Everybody's got a PC in their home - and several in their office, plus a laptop - and most people have a smart phone with the Skype App don't they? What else could they need for making Skype calls?

Well, I think you are wrong. Not everybody does have a smart phone with the Skype App. Yes, most people have a PC in their house - but that's rather my point.

What is?

Well, when you make a Skype call from your PC there's lots of clever things you can do like video calls and screen sharing and so on, and that is fine for the office and quite often at home. (For example, video calls with the grandchildren in Australia.) But there are other circumstances - especially in the home - when you don't need all that.

Go on.

In fact 'all that' becomes a burden. You don't need it and don't want it. People often just want to blather on a cordless phone for hours on end while they get on with other things around the house, just like they have done for years with their cordless landline. In fact, before there were cordless phones people had great long extension leads so they could carry their receiver around the house. (Remember the 1970s? Flares, shag-pile carpets and huge long telephone extensions. Coolio coolio.)

Well, they can do that on their desktop or laptop can't they? You don't have to make a video call and most microphones are good enough to let you walk around the room at least. And if you have a laptop, or better still a small notebook, you can carry that around with you from room to room.

Yes, you are right up to a point. And in fact that is what my wife does. But it doesn't suit everybody. Let me tell you a true story.

Go on then -

Well, as you know, from early spring until late autumn my wife and I spend most of our time in Greece. The younger of our daughters lives in our flat in Germany the whole year. We have broadband connections in both places, feeding a desktop in Germany and my laptop in Greece, with WLAN to my wife's notebook. My wife and our daughter like to talk on the phone most evenings, usually for a considerable time. It used to be that our daughter always rang from Germany using the landline and one of the cheap pre-dial codes so that the charge went on the German bill - slightly cheaper than doing the same procedure from Greece. The bill for these calls came to somewhere between 5 and 10 Euros a week. Not a lot? Well, think about that for the best part of 30 weeks a year. A complete waste of money when they could talk free for as long as they liked using a web phone system like Skype. Once set up in both locations, it worked well. For a while. But I started to notice more and more that there seemed to be some excuse for not using Skype, and more and more of their conversations had reverted to the old landline and cheap code routine.

It took me a while to find out why. The German end was the problem. Our daughter found it a real drag having to boot up the PC and then sit in the office cubby-hole where it lives. For their length of conversations she needs to go the toilet at least twice; smoke at least two cigarettes (on the balcony); probably make herself something to eat and quite likely watch a TV programme, and deal with SMS and calls from her girlfriends on her mobile phone, all while talking to her mother. She says it is multi-tasking. Now, our daughter is probably an extreme example, but there must be plenty of people in a home environment who are not welded to their computers like us and would much rather talk using a traditional cordless phone or a mobile.

Solution? A Skype telephone! Hooray! I reckon the one I bought is just about the best option, and certainly for this particular circumstance. It is the DUALphone 3088, which plugs its own modem into your router and the handset sits in its own wireless base station, so you can keep it pretty much wherever you want in a normal-sized house.

- but does it work? Does your daughter use it?

Oh yes. Have a look at the photos - our daughter multi-tasking! In fact our two households are connected for hours on end every evening...with no running meter. And in our case, the handset has paid for itself within a year.

So, if you thought web telephoning wasn't for you because of perceived restrictions, think again. Have a look at the different equipments available. Surely between Skype on desktop, laptop, notebook, smart phone and skype phones themselves, landlines should be kicked into touch in almost every conceivable circumstance in office or home - the only exceptions being where local landline calls are free or part of a comms package you are already paying for.

[ Disclaimer: Neither Glanton nor Tom Muir have any connection, financial or otherwise with Skype or Dualphone. This is not an advertisement! ]

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