Before Google take over the world with their release of Google Talk, you should check out Skype. Not because there is anything wrong with Google Talk, (its just not out there yet for anyone to use), but because Skype is already there and working right now.

It will give you a chance to see what VOIP is all about if you have never used it before. The Skype service is actually quite good and to be honest, I don’t know what sort of services Google will be offering.

For example, I have two ‘normal’ looking telephone numbers which Skype call “SkypeIn – or Skype In). A SkypeIn number is one that any regular telephone user can ring and it will come direct to whichever machine I am logged into with Skype running on it. (At home Skype runs on 3 of the PC’s I have up and when someone rings it, it is like the end scene in the Lawnmower Man – and for all those who say what is the last scene in the Lawnmower Man, you are far too young, or you were not a techy when the movie came out).

To call me via Skype running on your PC, you can press the link below (apparently, but I am not in the habit of calling myself, so I can’t tell you if it works).

Or when you load up Skype you can add “Shinerweb” as a contact and it should find me.

I have a couple of SkypeIn numbers for my business. One of them being UK based and the other US based. It is actually a US 817 area code which is the Fort Worth area of Texas.

This means that anyone in the US can call me for the price of a call to Fort Worth. So if they are in Fort Worth, they don’t pay a penny (or a cent) for calling my Skype number in the US. So a free call from the US to the UK is not bad.

Anyone can also call my UK SkypeIn number within the UK and pay the price of a local call most often.

But remember, if you have Skype installed on your PC, and you use Skype to call me, then it costs you NOTHING !!!!

You can even get phones that look like ordinary phones that you use right now. They have base stations, wireless phones, answering machines etc etc. But instead of connecting them to your BT socket, they connect to Skype (via your PC or via a router/ADSL modem). These phones differ only to the normal household phone in that it uses the Skype Network to make calls. And if you have a SkypeIn and SkypeOut then you can call anyone, anywhere. The Phonebook is a bit more advanced on these types of phones too, because it can interact with your PC and/or retrieve your account information from the Skype Network.

The phone companies are absolutely bricking themselves at the moment (UK term for getting quite worried). In a sense they have been using VOIP for years when sending large volumes of telephone calls around the country/world. But they never really expected individual users to start using VOIP to make calls and it became the baby of the internet to drive this usage through.

Now anyone with a decent (>512k) internet connection speed can make VOIP calls that most often are superior in call quality to normal land line calls and a damn site cheaper (erm… free to be exact).

It won’t be long before 99% of your calls will be VOIP in one form or another.

Skype differs from say the Call feature of Yahoo or MSN, and probably Google Talk. Yahoo and MSN are applications that have VOIP built in to it. Skype is a complete service based around VOIP and that is all that it does. All of its services are based around VOIP (such as the SkypeIn, SkypeOut, VoiceMail, Video Mail etc).

Now Google does have a chat program called Hello, which at present is not as popular as say Yahoo and MSN, and they are not intending to bold Google Talk onto that.

From what I have heard and read, Google Talk will be a standalone application and all it will do is VOIP. It might have some fancy VOIP based features, but it will not be an online chat program with VOIP bolted on. I don’t know if it will have the same number or type of features as say Skype, but it should be quite good if all you want to do is make calls between two PC’s for example.

But either way, I have been a user of Skype for quite some time and I have had no complaints. All of the calls I make to Land Lines which I have to pay for a really cheap. I think I paid 10 Euro’s into my account a few months back and having just checked, I still have 7 Euros left and I have made quite a number of calls.

The best feature I like is that because it is my business number, it follows me round where ever I log in. If I am away, when I connect my laptop to the network, my Skype number is there with me so I am always reachable. (I can quite easily switch on my voicemail, which is also another great feature of Skype).

If you have never heard of it, or never used it, then I would seriously give it a trial. Something for nothing you say, there must be a catch. Well there honestly isn’t.

But remember, Skype is probably not suitable for making Emergency Calls. Having a fire in your house for example which takes the power out might not make using your computer to make calls very easy. At present your normal phone is powered from the Exchange so it is 99.9999% always available. In the future, can you imagine the savings that phone companies will make if they don’t have to provide the power for all of its users telephones. Can you imagine the BBC supplying the power for each person who is watching its channel? No. Funny that British Telecom supplies the power for EVERY user that makes a call on its network. (And I am not talking about the transformer that you have plugged in to power your answering machine, I am talking about the power to make your phone ring and send the voices back and forth etc).

So just like you should always have one simple phone plugged in somewhere in your house in case there is a power cut, you should always consider how you would make emergency calls if you were to rely on Skype.