Monday, December 22, 2008

A Review of International Calling Products

There are a variety of low cost international long distance calling products on the market today but each has been designed to fit the needs of a specific group of consumers. Marketers and product developers have tried to broaden the appeal of their products but all have certain limitations. The purpose of this article is to review the types of international calling products on the market today and provide a brief overview of their strengths and limitations so consumers can make better choices.

One product does not fit the needs of all. People who are PC savvy and have high speed INTERNET connections may choose to use PC to PC or PC to Phone service or VoIP technology while others may want the convenience and flexibility of a phone card. Most people only make occasional international calls while others make multiple international phone calls each day. Therefore, some people are willing to sacrifice quality and convenience in order to save money while others are willing to pay a bit more for higher quality, convenience and flexibility. Consumers need to understand the limitations of each product type so they can make informed choices.

  • Traditional Long Distance – Forget using traditional long distance from your home phone, cell phone or office phone unless you only make one or two short international calls each year and you don’t care about wasting money. There are products on the market today which offer the same quality at a fraction of the cost.
  • VoIP Phone Service – This may be a good option for saving money on home phone service but it is not the best option for saving money on international calls. There is a monthly charge for VoIP service and in most cases international long distance calls cost extra. The cost for making international long distance calls with VoIP is typically cheaper than the rates charged by traditional long distance providers but there cheaper options that are more convenient. A high speed internet connection is required for VoIP and most service providers require a long term contract. VoIP service providers typically charge extra fees for set-up, activation, early termination and some even charge for equipment.
  • PC-to-PC or PC-to-Phone Service - This service is used to make calls over the internet from a personal computer. A PC-to-PC service like Skype is required along with equipment like a head-set and micro phone. PC-to-PC calls are typically free so this is a very cheap option but it is not very convenient since both parties need access to a PC and an internet connection. Calls can be made from PC-to-Phone but they are not free. This is more convenient but the caller still needs access to a PC and an internet connection. There are other methods for making international calls that cost about the same as PC-to-Phone but are more convenient and typically offer better quality.
  • Phone Cards – Prepaid phone cards have ultimate convenience since they can be used to make cheap international calls from almost any phone (cell, home, business, pay phone or even VoIP). The cost for making international calls vary from being dirt cheap to expensive depending on the card used and the location or type of phone called. Calls to cell phones are generally more expensive than calls to land lines. Shopping and comparing phone cards can be complex because fee structures vary along with quality and usability. Most phone cards provide good rates to a few locations but poor rates to others. Shop for phone cards that offer good rates to the locations you call the most. Also, check for access number availability in the locations where you plan to use the phone card. Purchase phone cards from a reputable phone card supplier that fully discloses all fees and charges in an easy to understand format.
  • Prepaid Long Distance – These are sometimes call dial-around plans. Prepaid long distance plans like Tel3Advantage are popular with frequent international callers since they offer a variety of useful features, low rates, high call quality and the convenience of a phone card. Tel3 Advantage also does not charge hidden fees or taxes so users actually pay the advertised rate for each call. Features include on-line account management, on-line call history with a complete record of each call, speed dial and PIN free dialing. Tel3 allows users to register up to 10 telephone numbers in each account. Calls made from these phone numbers can be made without dialing an account number or PIN code. Tel3Advantage has a wide network of local access numbers but can only be used to make calls from the USA and Canada.
  • International Call Back Phone Service – This is a good method for making low cost international calls from almost any country. Many countries outside of North America, Europe and the developed countries in Asia have very high tariffs on international long distance calls. International callback long distance uses a clever method to avoid these tariffs by placing calls through long distance providers located in low cost third countries. There are at least three common methods used to trigger or place calls so potential users should conduct further research to determine the best method for their location and situation.

    As summarized above, there are a variety of technologies available on the market today for making low cost international phone calls. Multiple companies’ market products using these technologies and some of these products are high quality and others are not. Consumers should shop and be smart about purchases. It is usually best to try a product by making a small purchase before making a large purchase or enter a long term contract. Most reputable VoIP providers will offer a 30 day (or longer) money back guarantee and most phone card providers will offer cards in small denominations so consumers can try the product before making a large purchase or commitment. It is best to stay away from those who don’t.

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