By Louis DeNicola, Cheapism.com
Long-distance service is expensive. With a standard landline, per-minute costs can add up quickly, especially for international calls. Voice over Internet protocol, better known as VoIP, provides a way to make heavily discounted or even free calls. Some services require a computer or smartphone, but others simply use an adapter to connect a traditional phone and a modem.
Related: Best Cheap laptops for 2013Save money on long distance calls with VOIP.
Cheapism.com highlights four VoIP services that allow users to make cheap or free nationwide and international calls:
Skype, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last week, is one well-known option available in the form of software and apps for computers, tablets, and smartphones. Skype-to-Skype calls are always free. For about $3 per month, subscribers can make unlimited calls to landlines and mobile phones in the U.S. and Canada. Unlimited international plans are also available. To receive calls from conventional phones, users must purchase a Skype number for $30 a year with a subscription ($60 without, or $18 every three months). Users living abroad consider this a great option because they can choose a number with an area code from back home, allowing friends and family to reach them with a "local" call.
Ooma is a hardware-based VoIP service that uses an adapter for a standard telephone -- no computer required. Ooma's Telo adapter does cost a hefty price of $150, but once connected, users can make and receive free calls anywhere in the U.S., although taxes and fees still apply (and usually amount to a few dollars a month). Reviewers say the device pays for itself in no time and praise the high quality of the sound. Ooma can provide a new number (for free) or port over a current number (for $40). Owners can also take this device abroad.
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Vonage offers its Vonage Box for free and then charges $25 a month for unlimited calls to the U.S. and Canada. The international plan, which costs only $2 more, includes unlimited calling to landlines in 60 countries and mobile phones in 10 countries and is hailed as a great deal by current subscribers (the company is currently promoting an intro rate of $10 a month for the first three months).
Google Hangouts, which allows users to connect to one another online for video, voice, and chat conversations, also includes the ability to call phone numbers in the U.S. and Canada for free. Users need a separate Google Voice account (the two services are slowly being integrated) to receive calls, however. Some envious international users have called on Google to expand the service, as the company offers only U.S.-based Voice numbers.
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VoIP services provide many of the same features as a home phone, including caller ID and voicemail, to name a couple. For consumers looking to switch to VoIP, the distinction between hardware-based services such as Ooma and Vonage, which do not require a PC or mobile device, and computer-based services such as Skype and Google Hangouts is important. Some users may be able to operate solely with Skype and no other phone, but that's not its intended use. The primary reason: You can't make emergency 911 calls. Any VoIP service will also be only as good as your Internet connection.
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