Applied Mechanics News

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

How to make long distance phone calls for free

Like many other communities, we mechanicians are scattered all over the world, often separated from families and colleagues. The Internet has promised for years to make long dstances irrelevant: anybody anywhere is just a click away. While nothing will ever be the same as being together in person, many Internet services can facilitate distant communication and collaboration. For example, Skype, an Internet phone service, allows you make free phone calls around the world. The sound quality is excellent.

To call a friend, you'll need to download a small piece of software from Your friend needs to do the same. Of course, both his computer and yours need be connected to the Internet, although skype allows you to call from a computer to a regular phone, or the other way around, for a small fee.

If your computer comes with both a microphone and a speaker, as most laptops do, you can make phone calls without any other equipment. However, when you call your friend over a very long distance (e.g., from US to China), as the sound from the speaker of your computer feeds into the microphone, the time delay is long enough for your friend to hear echoes of his own voice. To eliminate the echoes, both of you should use headsets. Of course, you’ll need a headset if your computer lacks a speaker or a microphone.

Once you set your commputer up, making a phone call is as easy as a click, or maybe two. I have skyped my parents and bother in China, as well as colleagues around the world. To have an effective technical discussion, you may want to send powerpoint files to each other by emails, before or while talking.

Conference calls are free and just as easy. The other day, my wife made a four-way conference call with her two brothers and their father. If you are active in a committee, with members in several places, Skype will be a way to hold a committee meeting.


  • In fact, you can send/receive files through Skype while you're chatting. It's real time without delay, which might be more convenient than email, since your email servers may be sluggish sometimes (like ours :-)

    Skype holds a clear advantage in the instant messaging (IM)business, compared with other more powerful companies, such as Yahoo, MSN and Google. It has large marketshare in Europe and Asia. Many companies in China now start to use Skype as standard intra-communication platform to reduce expense. So why not take the advantage in Academia? The service quality is quite reliable. I never have any significant difficulties using it for international and domestic communication.

    If you're not sure which IM provider you want to choose, the following information might be helpful.

    Why Skype is still better:

    -Skype has the European market. Yahoo clearly mentions on the bottom of their information page: "Intended for use by U.S. residents only.", leaving Canada and the rest of the world in the dust.

    -They are fully P2P and encrypted. Nobody's listening, while Yahoo will submit under the pressure of big brother to eavesdrop.

    -As much as they like to think it, Yahoo does not own the IM world and doesn't have nearly the amount of IM users that Skype has.

    -No ads, no bloat and nothing you don't want.

    -Calling is the central focus of Skype, while Voice is now a "feature" of YIM.

    -It's fully cross-platform.

    By Blogger Teng Li, at 3/29/2006 9:28 AM  

  • If you are calling PC-to-Phone you might want to consider VoipBuster. There are several countries that you can call for free. Up until about a month ago Germany was free. Now it is a bargain rate of 0.005 Euros per minute. Quality is great. VoipBuster also does P2P. Since it seems like skype might be more popular, I am probably going to end up having both VoipBuster for PC-to-Phone and and Skype for PC-to-PC on my computers.

    Here is a link to some one else's blog entry (just starting today?) on Skype vs VoipBuster.

    If you really want information and links to the hundreds of available providers, you could spend some time at The top 100 ranking is apparently biased towards cost?

    By Blogger Mark E. Walter, at 3/29/2006 6:28 PM  

  • Dear Teng and Mark:

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience.


    By Blogger Zhigang Suo, at 3/29/2006 6:48 PM  

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