Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cheap International Calls to Cell Phones

Many people want to make cheap international calls to cell phones and there are several options available today. The best or cheapest option depends on several factors so one option is not the best for every caller. Things like the location of the caller, the destination called and the type of phone the caller intends to use (land line, INTERNET or cell phone) are all important factors to consider when shopping for the international service. Most people are looking for an option that is high quality, cheap and convenient to use so we reviewed the pros and cons of a few popular options. These included two International VoIP calling plans, a PC-to-Phone service, a popular prepaid long distance phone service and a high quality phone card. The results of our review are presented below.

Several VoIP service providers now advertise that they include free international calls to several countries with their phone service. Vonage and Lingo offer two of the most popular VoIP services. In most cases, the free calls included with these plans are to landlines not cell phones, as shown later; in most cases, international calls to cell phones are not cheap with these plans. Vonage indicates that they include free calls to 60 countries with their new Vonage World plan and Lingo advertises that free calls to 75 countries are included with their Lingo World Max service. Vonage charges around $32.60 per month (including taxes and fees) for their service and Lingo charges about $31 per month (including fees and taxes). In addition to the monthly service fees, users also need to pay for a high-speed INTERNET connection so neither service is actually free. Both calling plans also require a service contract (Lingo requires 2 years and Vonage requires 1 year) and charge an early termination fee if a customer chooses to stop using the service, so they are not a convenient option for short-term users. However, both phone services are good quality and one of them may be a good deal for those who want low cost home phone service and the ability to make frequent international calls to one or more of the countries covered by their plans.

Skype offers a very popular personal computer based phone service. It can be used to make free PC-to-PC calls worldwide so it is very popular with students, international business travelers and expats living around the world. Skype can also be used as a PC-to-Phone service where users can make calls to landlines or cell phones from their PC but there is a fee for this service. As shown later, Skype PC-to-Phone rates are not that cheap and Skype is not a very convenient option since calls are made from a PC so we believe there are better and cheaper options for making international calls to cell phones.

Prepaid long distance is another option so we examined the Tel3Advantage Flex Plan, which is one of the most popular prepaid plans in North America. It can be used to make cheap long distance calls from any phone (cell, home, business or pay phone) in Canada and the USA. It is a popular service for making cheap international calls because it is convenient to use, offers some of the lowest rates and does not require a monthly fee or contract.

We wanted to compare the above options with the rates offered by a high quality phone card so we chose the Continental Phone Card. It can be used to make cheap calls from over 60 countries and is one of the most versatile phone cards on the market. It has low fees relative to other phone cards but it does charge a 15% tax (surcharge) on calls so we include this in the per-minute rates listed in the Table below. The continental card is a virtual phone card that can be used from any kind of phone. Customers get a free on-line account where they can monitor activity and make changes to their account so it is a viable long or short-term option.

We have summarized the rates charged each minute for calls originating from the USA using the options listed above in the following table. We randomly selected a variety of popular destinations in order to compare rates to different regions of the world. Note that Tel3Advantage offers rates that are similar to phone cards on calls to cell phones in most locations while both VoIP service providers and Skype charge significantly higher rates.

Sample Rates on Calls from the USA to Mobile Phones (US $ per Minute)

Country Vonage1 Lingo2 Skype3 Tel34 Phone Card5

Afghanistan $1.25 $0.72 $0.355 $0.262 $0.243
Australia 0.22 0.33 0.20 0.089 0.117
Brazil 0.17 0.30 0.213 0.19 0.205
China Free Free 0.021 0.018 0.025
Egypt 0.15 0.159 0.15 0.17 0.167
France 0.19 0.22 0.203 0.164 0.150
Germany 0.25 0.30 0.246 0.17 0.143
Ghana 0.20 0.24 0.166 0.185 0.171
Iran 0.36 0.139 0.158 0.115 0.164
Israel 0.17 0.089 0.136 0.089 0.093
Italy 0.25 0.37 0.308 0.21 0.193
Mexico 0.23 0.34 0.336 0.20 0.160
Nigeria 0.28 0.30 0.254 0.199 0.135
Russia 0.08 0.109 0.071 0.06 0.064
South Africa 0.23 0.27 0.233 0.165 0.148
Trinidad 0.23 0.16 0.341 0.155 0.258
Ukraine 0.16 0.21 0.186 0.138 0.125

1 Vonage World , posted rates on 11/8/09

2 Lingo World Max, rates on 11/8/09

3 Skype Pay As You Go, posted rates on 11/8/09
4 Tel3Advantage Flex Plan, posted rates on 11/9/09
5 Continental Phone Card, including 15% tax.

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