As a regular user of a VOIP (voice over IP) telephone system and regular user of Skype (an Web based VOIP network), I was intrigued by Skype's offer earlier this summer of free Web to landline calls in North America.
I love using Skype to talk to friends and family all over the world for free. All they require is the free Skype software, speakers and a microphone. Now throw in a web cam and we have live video calling. Truly amazing to talk and see the person who you're talking with in real time. Of course depending on your bandwidth, the person on the other ends bandwidth and the overall available bandwidth on the network this can range from a great call with OK video to a poor quality call with very jerky video.
In my experience, when you turn off the video, Skype delivers an OK quality voice call. So now I could call for free friends and family throughout North America (assuming I'm in North America) for free who don't have Skype. Of course with my Primus TalkBroadband VOIP line I already had unlimited calling in North America, but for others who only had Skype this could be a real money saver and extremely convenient.
Let me explain, for Skype to Skype to work, both people have to be on-line. So if the person you want to speak to isn't at their computer you can't talk to them. With Skype to landline, you login in to your Skype account, dial their telephone number and your almost instantly connect.
The problem is the quality of the call. While on the web you might expect a poor quality call, but on a land line that is another story. I gave it a try a few times and was reminded on International calls I used to make 10-15 years ago. Where you talked wait a few seconds and hear yourself on the other end.
OK this is for free, but the person on the other end doesn't know it. I personally think if Skype is trying to promote this service in North America they need to improve their network routing within North America. I know of several Europeans who use this service regularly with Europe and are happy with the quality.
If you're using this free Skype to landline a try in hopes of evaluating VOIP overall don't. It simply isn't the same thing.
I gave a few VOIP providers here in Canada a try and all provided a good quality service (except AOL). For the most you can't tell I'm on a VOIP phone system regardless of where in the world I'm calling.
Dan MacLean over at ITworld Canada has a good editorial piece on why you shouldn't use Skype to evaluate VOIP. Well worth the read if you are thinking of going to a VOIP phone.