I like Skype

I’m typically an early adopter when it comes to new technology…  Hmm, actually I used to be an early adopter – I think I might have reached the age where my choices in technology are becoming calcified (“Dang kids and their Twitter and FourSquare…  And get off of my lawn!”)…  At any rate, I’ve been trying to figure out how to not get reamed quite so painfully each month by AT&T – between local service and DSL, my monthly bill was nearly $80…  And every couple of months I get some third-party charges crammed on the bill – which is especially maddening since AT&T doesn’t offer a way to prevent such charges and I’m required to call the company that made the unauthorized charges to my bill…  Really annoying.

So I decided to check out Skype. And in an effort to be servicey, here’s what I did to get my monthly AT&T bill down to less than $40…

First, I signed up for Skype.  It’s free to obtain the service – then one can either purchase pay-as-you-go credits or get unlimited calling in the U.S. and Canada for $2.95 a month.  I got the unlimited plan, meaning I could now place calls from my computer to any phone number in the U.S. Pretty neat, but kind of annoying to have to sit in front of the computer and use microphone and speakers to chat…

I looked at some handsets designed to work with Skype, thinking I’d rather chit-chat on a phone-like-object plugged into my computer – but I was able to find an even better solution: an adapter that hooks up to my existing phone equipment and my computer, allowing me to make calls via local landline or via Skype from a “normal” phone…  I was amazed at how perfectly simple it was to set up the adapter and phones – and everything worked just as it was supposed to from the get-go.  And the best part? The adapter was only $40.

So, now I can make calls with my existing phone using Skype – what about people calling me?  Getting a SkypeIn telephone number requires a subscription – but since I’d signed up for monthly calling service, I got the number at a discounted price of $30 for a year.  Granted, I’ll have to resubscribe every year, but the cost is minuscule compared to what AT&T charges for local service with all features…  And I was able to get a number that includes the mnemonic ERIC at the end…  Granted, it’s not as good as my existing landline’s mnemonic of HOMO, which was sadly unavailable in Skype.

Of course, I’ve had to make some adjustments.  For example, making Skype calls using the phone handset is a bit involved. I have to enter ## to get Skype (rather than local dial tone) then 011-1-AreaCode-PhoneNumber, then * to send the call (e.g. ##011-1-415-555-1212*).  That’s a lot of buttons to press…  But for frequently called numbers, I just programmed them into my phone’s memory.

And there’s actually a great Skype add-in for Firefox.  Any telephone number in my browser is now clickable.  So, last night when I ordered Thai food from across the street, I just googled the restaurant and clicked the phone number and – voilà! (or, as so many people prefer, “viola!”) – the number is dialed via Skype. It’s a pretty cool feature…

Skype also includes voice mail with a subscription – though I’ve chosen to forward calls that aren’t answered on Skype to my cell phone.  This too is a pretty handy feature…

There are drawbacks, of course – Caller ID tends not to work as reliably as on a landline…  Skype apparently isn’t always able to receive phone number data.  And calls forwarded to my cellphone by Skype are sometimes ID’d as my SkypeIn number, so I don’t know who’s calling.  Not the end of the world, but not ideal – the caller ID data is there, so Skype should figure out how to pass it for all calls, not just some.  Maybe they’ll include it in an update…

So, why didn’t I get rid of my landline completely?  Well, partly because of my paranoia about not having a phone to call 9-1-1 when I’m pinned under some rubble when the big earthquake finally hits…  But more because it’s pretty much six-of-one-half-dozen-of-the-other.  If I turn off local service with AT&T, they raise my DSL rates by $10 a month.  So I switched from flat-rate local service with features ($45 monthly, including fees and taxes) to measured rate service with no features ($13 monthly).  So, for $3 more a month, I get to keep my local phone number and I can call 9-1-1 if I fall in the bathtub and break my hip…  Win-win!

Oh, and I almost forgot – AT&T knocked $10 a month off of my DSL charges for a year when I indicated I was flirting with Comcast.  And I really was flirting a bit (20 or more Mbps!) – though not once I remembered how many times over the last year my cable service has been out.  AT&T may be one of the more horrible of corporations in terms of their business and political practices – but their network works pretty damn flawlessly…

At any rate, so far so good – I couldn’t be happier with my new telecom set-up.

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