Saving money with VoIP: a guide to the best services

Work out what's what in the world of VoIP

We've already looked at the best dual-mode VoIP phones currently on the market, but there's still a confusing array of voice over IP service options. Like traditional telephony, VoIP isn't limited to a single provider. Unlike traditional telephony, not all of these services are compatible with the same phones in the same way. The best choice often depends on an individual's situation — for example, their Internet service provider, preferred phone and usage habits.

Skype

The proprietary system that everyone has come to love, Skype is an easy option. It's easily accessible, has a wide user base and there are a number of compatible dedicated and dual-mode VoIP phones.

Skype-to-Skype calls are free, making it the perfect choice for those who already have an established network of friends on Skype. You can call people with Skype-compatible VoIP phones, or call a friend using the Skype software on a PC.

However, calling landlines is a different matter. Although Skype-to-Skype is free, SkypeOut isn't. National landline calls in Australia are fairly cheap at 3.1c a minute, but things might get slightly costly if you're calling a lot of mobiles — at 30.4c a minute, it isn't necessarily the cheapest VoIP option available.

Windows Live Messenger

Microsoft's instant messaging network is home to nearly 260 million users. Still, there's a good chance your bank or insurance company isn't one of them. Given that Windows Live Messenger is a closed network, users will only be able to call fellow Windows Live Messenger contacts rather than phoning landlines as well. It is free, and a good option if you have enough contacts. However, even with a stylish Messenger-compatible phone like Philips' VOIP433 (Windows Live Messenger), you may find yourself using the landline more than the actual VoIP capability.

Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)

SIP is currently the most popular protocol for use with VoIP, and there are a number of local options that make IP-based telephony a strong competitor with traditional landlines. These options are largely third parties that provide VoIP capability over a user's existing broadband line. This does mean that VoIP data will probably count towards the user's data allowance, though typically VoIP requirements are miniscule at around 10MB per hour.

Freshtel is one of the bigger SIP companies, and it offers a variety of plans. Its most basic plan has no monthly costs and is free to sign up to. It offers 12.5c untimed calls to Australian landlines, and 27.5c per minute calls to mobiles. International rates are 1.8c per minute, making it a good choice for users who plan on regular international calls.

Pennytel is quickly gaining a reputation for some of the cheapest VoIP rates on the market. The provider's two cheapest plans are free of monthly subscription charges, and incur a call rate of 1.6c per minute for national landline calls or 8c per minute untimed. Pennytel's biggest drawcard is its mobile call rate, which is a very reasonable 10.5c per minute.

Engin is yet another option for SIP-based VoIP telephony. Plans start at $9.95 per month and include 10c untimed landline calls and 27c per minute mobile call rates. International call rates start at 1.9c per minute. The $19.95 per month Engin Home Plus plan offers free national and international calls to eight countries, and mobile rates drop to 22c per minute.

ISP-based VoIP

The most anticipated service to hit the Australian broadband market since the launch of ADSL2+ is 'Naked DSL'. Naked DSL is an effective way of allowing users to eradicate line rental charges by relying just on VoIP and broadband packages.

Although Telstra and Optus do provide some form of VoIP service, the majority of ISP-based VoIP packages are being provided by the larger third party ISPs, including iiNet, TPG and Internode. Each offers a variety of VoIP services that aren't limited to their broadband customers. If you want the best deals, there's a good chance you'll save a decent amount of money by combining an ISP's VoIP package with their broadband offering.

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