Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Calling home v2

We’ve had Skype installed on our computer for several years, but hadn’t used it more than a few times. Our dial-up connection was practically useless, and the satellite connection had too many annoying gaps.

By the time our connection speed improved dramatically last year, Skype had fallen off our radar. However, we were eager to see how VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) tools worked while travelling with our netbook.

Now we’re converted.

With decent Internet connections almost everywhere we’ve been in SE Asia, we’ve been able to call wherever we want. It sometimes seems a bit odd to be talking at a screen, but the connections have been excellent—better than most speakerphones in fact.

Calls to another Skype user are free, but they need to be online with Skype running for that to work. I bought some Skype credit online so I can make a call to any telephone. The credit gets used as you talk, and the rates vary. For example, calling anywhere in Canada costs 2.4c per minute, but calling a friend’s mobile in Thailand costs 13c per minute. The rates are listed within the Skype window, and the amount of credit you have is shown in real time. Making a call is intuitive: choose the country and dial. No need to remember arcane country codes.

After chatting with friends back home from the privacy and comfort of our hotel room the other day, we marvelled at how different telephoning has become since we were last in this part of the world.

Then—in 1983 in Bangkok—a call home to Canada involved going to a special building and being assigned a booth where an operator dialled the number. Calls needed to be prepaid, and were very expensive.

With mobile phones and tools like Skype, staying connected with people at home is a very different experience today.