When Skype emerged several years ago, it was all the rage. The possibility of making free high quality phone calls excited our ultra-connected world. Faster internet connections meant you could clearly and instantly transmit your voice from one computer to another. Along with Skype, programs like iChat, Google Talk, and various other Messenger services emerged to turn your computer into a telephone.
Simultaneously, smartphones became more advanced and gained popularity. We realized that it might be possible to combine these two technologies to create an incredible new service. If we can put these programs on our cellphones, then connect to Wi-Fi Internet networks, we should be able to make free calls from our cellphones to anyone.
Unfortunately, if you’ve spent even a brief time navigating the world of free Internet phone calls, you know that it’s just not that simple. The technology is rapidly changing and programs that allow internet calling differ in what they offer. I’ve sifted through some of the most popular and lesser known Internet calling programs to give you an idea of the benefits and drawbacks of each. I will also explain how to make free phone calls on your iPhone or Android by tapping into the Internet on your cellphone.
Skype – This is probably the most well-known Internet calling service, with an average of 124 million users per month. On a fast Internet connection, the sound quality can be incredibly impressive. You can call other Skype users for free, but if you want to call regular phone numbers within the U.S., you have to pay about 2.3 cents a minute (lower with a subscription option).
Google Voice – I’m a big fan of Google Voice because of its integration with Gmail and other Google services. It offers free text messages. It also provides a voicemail box, creates a transcript of any voicemail, and forwards it to your Gmail account. Unfortunately, it does not save you money on cellphone calls because it uses your regular cell phone network to place calls.
FreePhone2Phone – If you can put up with listening to a 10-12 second ad before making your call, you can get a free 10-minute call to landlines in 55 countries. How it works is you dial a local number found on FreePhone2Phone.com. You listen to an ad then place your call. The sound quality is very good.
Line2 – This gives your phone a second line with its own phone number. For $10/month, you can call over Wi-Fi when it’s available. One downside is it takes about 15 seconds for the program to recognize the available Wi-Fi.
The programs mentioned above all provide helpful services with differing benefits and drawbacks. If you are looking for free text messaging on your phone, perhaps download Google Voice. If you only need to make short phone calls and can bear listening to brief ads, perhaps go with FreePhone2Phone. However, none of these programs by itself allows you to tap into a Wi-Fi network on your cellphone and make a free call to regular phone numbers. If you have an iPhone or Android, there is a way to accomplish this feat, but it requires a slightly more tedious setup.
Talkatone – Once you get through the tough start up routine, this app allows you to use your cell phone to make free phone calls when you’re in a Wi-Fi hot spot. The interface looks a bit strange, resembling more of a chat program than a phone application. It works by tapping into your Google Voice and using the free calling feature offered by Gmail.
netTalk – Setting up this application requires even greater technical prowess. It requires you to have a valid SIP account. It doesn’t tell you how to get an SIP account or even what an SIP account is. If you can overcome this hurdle, your phone will be able to call regular phone numbers for free, just like Talkatone.
Whistle Phone – Similar to netTalk, you need an SIP account to use this app. Luckily, the app explains how to get one. Before making a call, you have to listen to a quick ad, but it provides the same service as Talkatone and netTalk.
After touting all the brilliant features that these Internet phone services provide, I feel compelled to provide some words of caution. Like most new forms of technology, Internet calling has its negatives. Calls generally take longer to connect than regular cell or land-line phone calls. Sound quality also tends to be inferior and voice delays are worse on Internet calls than cellphone calls. Lastly, Internet calling programs lack much in the way of tech support.
Nevertheless, Internet calling offers an alternative to more expensive cellphone calling plans. If you can navigate these crowded and complex waters, there are significant savings to be found.
Published or updated August 29, 2012.