My services of choice for international teleconferencing
In my work, I have a need to call America, Ireland and mainland Europe a lot, both from my home and while “mobile”. I also need to arrange conference calls with people from all of the above. Two services make this experience seamless and fabulous. There are a few gripes—which I’ll highlight—but all in all the experience is positive.
Skype allows me to undertake VOIP calls from my mobile, a desk phone or my PC. Which is pretty damned useful.
While at home, I use the desktop application and use my laptop as the medium. The on-board speakers and microphone make this less like a traditional phone conversation, more like the experience of a speaker phone. The user interface is an absolute travesty, but once you’re on the call, all is good.
While out and about, I use my Skype To Go number as a route to my international target audience. There are very occasional issues with call quality, but in the main it does its job, and with speed-dial numbers, things are even easier. I dial a London number and then use the speed-dial facility or dial in full the international number, and we’re done. I used to use the Skype wireless app. from my iPhone, but generally, if I’m in wireless range (a prerequisite), I’ll have my laptop handy and choose to use that instead.
While at a desk phone from which I shouldn’t/can’t call internationally, I again use my Skype To Go number. If it’s an unregistered number (or one behind a gateway), I have to complete two further steps of authentication. If I’m dialing a non-speed-dial American number, this means typing 42 characters to get through, but that’s fine by me. (I’ve always been good at remembering numbers—my brother’s phone number in Germany 19 years ago was 010 49 221 2093 531, for example.)
Calls to American toll-free numbers are free, standard US numbers are 1.6p per minute, same for Luxembourg and Ireland.
The only thing I wish is that the desktop user interface was overhauled or that I could download a separate a third-party app. as my gateway into the Skype service.
I have my account set up to automatically top up every time it dips below £2 so I don’t have to worry about running out. Although mid-call the other day, it warned me of a failed payment (by debit card had expired), and I was able to register the new card and top up my balance during the call before it became an issue.
Powwownow adds teleconferencing to the mix. I have registered for their Enhanced Access service, which is as free as their Open Access feature but importantly adds international dial options to the standard 0844 dial-in. The model is that every participant helps pay for the service being provided.
I used to use the Open Access package, but used to cringe at the thought of the 20p per minute cost when forced to dial the 0844 number from my mobile. Even using Skype, it was 8.1p per minute.
With the Enhanced Access service, somewhat counter-intuitively I call a regular American number to access the UK service. And doing so over Skype gives me the 1.6p per minute rate.
Conference calling with AT&T does not seem to allow Skype access—the participant code is not picked up properly. This is not an issue for Powwownow.
The combination of the two services gives me complete freedom for calling and conference calling wherever I am. I’m told that Google Voice and Video Chat might be a good replacement for Skype. And this integration with my Google Apps Contacts would certainly be welcome. But for the time being, I’m happy.