Forget paying up to 12.5p per minute to use your BT line. You can get calls for free by using the internet or for next to nothing with an override provider. The MoneyMagpies have done all the research for you, so read on to lower your phone bills.
Vo..what? It sounds a bit fancy, but Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP is one of the cheapest ways to make phone calls. It costs less than using a traditional landline or mobile phone, and is especially good if you are calling abroad.
It works by allowing you to call and speak over the internet instead of using a phone line.
- Talking over the internet via a microphone headset, the built-in microphone on your computer or a plug-in handset. This means you’re actually connected to a computer all the time. So – the quality will be great but you can’t really move around.
- By using a VoIP hub phone where your phone is connected to the internet via wireless internet. This means you have a cordless phone that you can walk around with – but you stay connected to and still call via the internet.
- A VoIP mobile that still calls via the internet, making calls free or very cheap. You’ll still have to pay for the price of the original call and the surf time.
Are all calls free?
If you speak straight from your computer to your friend’s computer – wherever they are in the world – it’s completely free (assuming you already pay a monthly rate for your broadband connection).
However, if you phone their normal home telephone or mobile phone from your computer it will cost you. How much depends on where they are and whether it’s a mobile or a landline, but even international calls are generally pretty cheap.
The only real drawback is that it’s entirely reliant on your internet connection . If your connection is weak or unreliable your voice can sound garbled at times. But with broadband advancing at the speed of light, you shouldn’t have many problems.
So how do you get it?
This is where it gets confusing. There are various different providers who use various different means to offer you cheap VoIP calls. They all have their advantages and disadvantages so you’ll need to choose which suits you best.
The most simple method is to call online, using your computer. The provider you need for this is Skype.
Skype is probably the most well known VoIP service. All you need to do to use it is to downoad the software for free here. Once you have Skype on your computer simply add Skype contacts (anyone else you know who also has the software) and you’re ready to go.
When you and any of your contacts are online at the same time you can talk to each other for free no matter where you are in the world. If you both have webcams you can also make video calls for free.
There are no catches, honest. All you need is a decent internet connection and you can talk to anyone, anywhere in the world, for as long as you want, without paying a penny.
You can also call phone lines from your online Skype account for a small charge. There are two ways of doing this:
Pay as you go
This works just like a pay-as-you-go mobile. You put credit on your Skype account online (minimum £10) and then spend it on calls.
The rates to call UK landlines are 1.4p all the time – cheaper than using BT during the day. However, it costs 16.6p a minute to UK mobiles which is actually more expensive than calling from a BT landline.
The best value calls are international. For example, it costs 1.4p to call a US landline or mobile.
If you want to call a lot through Skype, they’ve introduced packages giving you unlimited calls to whichever countries you choose.
There are a selection of packages available if you just want to call UK landlines and mobiles – they start from just 69p per month.
There are also two other packages – ‘unlimited Europe’ and ‘unlimited world’. The first offers you calls to 20 European countries and costs £4.99 a month, the second gives you calls to 40 countries worldwide and is £7.99 a month. Quite noticeably, none of these plans include free calls to UK mobiles.
Using your landline
If you want to make VoIP calls using your phone, there are some other providers you need to know about.
Vonage is a service that calls over the internet but functions just like a normal landline. You simply connect your phone to your computer modem (via your wireless router) instead of the telephone socket – your computer doesn’t even have to be turned on for it to work.You have to pick a plan that includes unlimited free calls to UK or worldwide landlines. For these calls you pay a monthly subscription.
For making calls in the UK, Vonage is good. It offers unlimited local and national (landline) calls to anywhere in the UK and the Republic of Ireland for £5.99 a month. As the plans go up in price, more countries are included in the unlimited minutes.
Vonage to Vonage calls are always free, as long as you have already signed up to a monthly payment plan. For other calls you do have to pay. Calls to mobiles are charged at 12p a minute (or if they are 3 Mobile 20p a minute).
On the other hand, the international calls are all under 13p per minute with the cheapest costing just 1p per minute. So you can still call internationally quite cheaply, even without buying an international call package.
VoIP Cheap & VoIP Stunt
VoIP Cheap works in exactly the same way as Skype, except instead of having a lower rate per minute or buying a bundle package, it gives you free calls to landlines in selected countries just for signing up. You can also phone other VoIP Cheap users for free.
VoIP Stunt is more like BT Broadband where you phone through the internet but on a normal phone. However, it’s better than BT as you get completely free calls.
If you sign up for a trial you get 60 minutes of calls for free. After that, you have to buy £10 credit to get on the free days plan.
This then gives you 300 minutes to free calling destinations per week. You stay on the freedays plan for 60 days and then you have to buy more credit to continue calling for free.
These are both good services, but the credit top-ups may be left unused if you are only calling free destinations. After you have used up your 300 minutes per week, normal VoIP Cheap/ Stunt rates apply. Certain countries are free to call, although not a huge selection.
Skype mobile phone
This is a mobile that lets you call your Skype contacts online or on their own Skype mobiles, completely free. You can buy Skype mobiles from 3 Mobile and as with other phones, opt for pay-as-you-go or pay monthly.
The best thing about this is that you can call another Skype phone wherever in the world they are. They just have to be on the 3 Mobile’s sister network in the specific country. To find out which are the sister networks. All non-Skype calls are charged at a flat rate of 12p.
The only downside is that all Skype pay-as-you-go outgoing calls (with a handset) are subject to a connection fee of 3.3p.
RebTel is a service that lets you make cheap international calls from your mobile. No need for a computer. It works in two ways:
To call someone directly, first you send their number to RebTel. They will then generate a local RebTel number which you can dial from your phone and pay a cheaper rate for calling internationally.
To set up a smart call, you dial someone on their RebTel number. You then ask them to phone you back on the number that has appeared on their phone.
They hang up to phone you back, but you stay on the line. In a few seconds they will click back onto the line and your call will be free. You can only smart call between certain countries .
When calling with RebTel you do still have to pay your main provider (o2, Orange etc) for the minutes you use. However they will only be charged at local rate.
RebTel really is good if you have a big free minutes bundle from your mobile provider and you have lots of friends abroad. It is a bit fiddly, but if you can be bothered to do it you can save as much as £1.48 per minute compared to your home provider.
Calling using an app
BT customers can now save money on their smartphone calls with BT’s new free SmartTalk app. The app allows BT customers to make phone calls whether in the UK or abroad, which are billed as if they were calling from their BT home phone. BT broadband customers have the added advantage of access to more than 7.5 million hotspots worldwide for free.
When travelling abroad, BT customers can use BT SmartTalk to phone home for the price of a UK call, which may be included in their BT package (e.g. free weekend or evening calls – which begin at 7pm).
Override providers are specialist phone providers that you access by dialling a code before the number you are calling. When you dial the access code, the company lifts it from the BT line and runs it through their own line.
The calls made with these providers are mostly charged straight to your credit or debit card. You need to go online to register with them and provide these details. To use an override provider you must already have a phone line, but they work on all normal landline providers.
Calls made using an override provider almost always charge an initial connection fee. However after this the calls are generally a lot cheaper than with BT or other suppliers.
The best one for UK landlines is 1899. You’ll pay a 4p connection charge and then the calls are free, for as long as you want to talk. For calling mobiles during the day the cheapest service is 18185 which is 6p/min plus a 5p connection charge (BT peak price is 12.5p/min).
These companies also offer ridiculously cheap international calls and are well worth using if you phone abroad a lot.
18185 rates start from just 0.5p per minute to a US mobile with a 5p connection charge. You can sign up to all these services at the same time to get the best price for whatever call you’re making.
The advantage they have over VoIP services is that you don’t have to have the internet (except to sign up in the first place). You won’t be stuck to a computer to make the calls and calling is so much simpler. No need to send off numbers and get local ones to replace them, for instance.
However, it’s not portable and can only be used in your own home. The best way to use override providers is to be registered for all of them. Then you can pick and choose the best rates.
When you call a mobile, use one code. When you call nationally use another. Finally, look at all of them to find the best rate for the specific country you want to ring.