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VoIP and Skype have been hot topics over the past couple of years. It has been especially noticeable at trade shows with seemingly every company under the sun making VoIP gateways and Skype compatible phones and routers.
VoIP is more than just a buzz-word though. It can reduce telephone calls costs considerably and in many cases it can be free. This is something that affects everyone, as everyone makes phone calls. Eventually, I expect phone calls will be like e-mails – the only cost being that of the net connection, or the bandwidth used.
I have a mobile phone with 500 minutes of talk time a month, so the need for a land-line became so small that I opted to go with NTL cable internet and bypass the need for a land-line altogether. I know many people that only use their land-line for ADSL, so it's quite irritating that the whole ADSL/land-line bonding hasn't been metaphorically separated.
By going with NTL cable, it meant I didn't need a land-line and reduced my monthly cost. This sounds like a great idea, but there isn't a day that goes by when I don't regret this decision. The service I've had has been slow and unreliable and definitely not the suggested 10Mbit. I run an IMAP mail server on my Fedora Linux box at home, which I connect to from the office all day and the connection has been far from stable.
The big downside to my particular setup is phoning abroad. Although I can do this on my mobile phone it costs more and is outside of my inclusive minutes. My parents took the bold option of moving to Italy a few years ago to run a Bed & Breakfast so I tend to rack up a fair few international calls each month.
I've always been a bit of a Skype snob - as a techy I know full well that it's nothing more than standard codecs in a pretty package and as such, I have tried to avoid it. So at first I used sipdiscount.com which had a very low rate to phone Italy. As I'm often on the move, I had this set up on my notebook and my desktop and the Firewall needed configuring especially to work with it. It certainly wasn’t the easiest thing to get going on hotel internet connections. I also found it very erratic on my NTL connection, with noticeable delay and often no signal getting through at all. I tried several different configurations using the X-Pro software phone as well as ExpressTalk, but to no avail.
I then decided to try Skype as I wanted to keep in touch with a friend of mine in America too. The rates to phone my parents weren't as cheap, but still pretty darned cheap. As with most things, the technology is only one portion – it's the package as a whole. I have to say, Skype has really impressed me. It didn't require any special setting up, has excellent contact management, IM and has been really well thought out.
The only thing that was missing for me was a handset for that real phone call experience. So in comes to the TRENDnet ClearSky.