During my first year at UC Davis, people often asked how I called home. Although many cut all ties during their first few weeks, that only lasts so long. Everyone will eventually begin calling home at some point. Sure, it’s 2010 and just about everyone owns a cell phone, but there are often other issues. For instance, my 5-story concrete build residence hall almost entirely killed all signal strength. Having to leave the building isn’t a convenient option. Also, if your hours conflict with taking advantage of unlimited “night and weekend minutes,” which most carriers offer, it’s easy to run into overage territory. Rather than upgrading to a more-expensive calling plan, it’s worth considering some affordable alternatives.
Google Voice + Gmail Phone Calls
If you haven’t heard, late last month, Google launched a new service enabling unlimited VoIP calls from within Gmail to any phone number in the United States and Canada. Getting started is quite easy. Just login to your Gmail inbox and look for the “Chat box” at the lower left hand column. Clicking on the “Call Phone” button, shown above, will launch a dial pad. If you have not installed the Voice and Video Plugin, you will need to do so. Once configured, assuming your computer is equipped with a microphone and speaker, you’ll be able to make free calls for the rest of the year.
If you also have a free Google Voice account, you can connect it with Gmail to accept incoming calls and display your number for outgoing Caller ID. And if you have all your phone numbers stored in Google Contacts, the dialer auto-fetches the associated names for faster dialing. I should note that Google hasn’t announced pricing for domestic calls after 2010, but we’re hoping it’s going to be affordable. Also, those using University-branded Google Apps won’t have access to the service just yet.
Skype Out Calls
If Google’s pricing turns out a bit too expensive after the promotional period ends, there’s always Skype Out. Although PC-to-PC and calls to Skype-enabled devices are free, there are charges for connecting to a cell phone or landline. Fortunately, pricing for unlimited calls to the United States and Canada is as little as $3/month. Skype even offers a 20% discount if you choose to pay up front for a full year of service. That’s significantly cheaper than paying high rates to upgrade a cellular calling plan. Also, if you own a iPhone, the Skype app allows placing unlimited outgoing calls without paying a penny. And if you are on WiFi, it won’t count against your monthly data cap either.