As the tragedies in Japan continue to mount, and the infrastructure continues to unravel, many people in Japan remarkably still have access to Internet. (Here is an informative article explaining how Japan maintains Internet access in spite of the chaos, Why the Earthquake Didn’t Cripple Japan’s Internet). As you see news reports coming from people in Japan using Skype, you may be wondering what Skype is and how it works to allow communication between people.
Skype works over the Internet and allows video calls, phone calls, instant messaging, and texts between people. Some of these services are free and some you have to pay for. The most fascinating thing about Skype is that you would never be able to guess what is free and what you have to pay for.
Video calls are free. That’s right, free. You would think that video calls would be Skype’s most expensive feature and you would be wrong. Why are video calls free? All Skype to Skype communications are free. So if you use Skype to place a video call to someone, you are using your Skype account to place a video call to someone else’s Skype account. Free.
Similarly, if you place a phone call on your Skype account to someone else’s Skype account, the call is free. As in no charge. Nada. Talk as long as you want. You won’t spend a dime, no matter where they are in the world.
You can use your Skype account either from your computer or your smartphone. Skype has free apps for iPhone, Android, and Nokia phones.
Too good to be true? Not at all. You just need a Skype account (free) and an Internet connection and you’re all set. Of course it helps if you know someone with a Skype account. Good news! A lot more people than you think have Skype accounts. Probably most of your loved ones have Skype accounts, and, if they don’t, well then they can just sign up for free. How great is that?
How does Skype make money? Skype, partially owned by eBay, charges for some communications:
- Calls to landline phones
- Calls to cell phones (unless the cell phone is using a Skype app)
- Text messages
- Online numbers
So why would you pay for a Skype call when you can place a Skype call for free? The reason you would pay for a Skype call is because both people have to be on Skype for the call to be free. Most people aren’t on Skype all the time so you might pay to call them on their phone (cell or landline) and ask them to get on Skype so you can call them for free. This comes in especially handy when calling internationally or when you have run out of your monthly minutes on your cell phone plan. International calls are very expensive and Skype offers rates much lower than regular cell phone or landline calls to international numbers.
Here’s how it works. First, download Skype onto your computer. You can find the software at skype.com. (If you have an Android, iPhone or Nokia phone, you should download the smartphone app as well.) Second, after you download Skype you will be asked to create an account. Sign up with your email address. You will then be asked if you would like Skype to search your email contacts to find friends on Skype. Again, you will be surprised at how many friends you have on Skype. You will then be asked to fill out your profile.
As part of this process, you can check the box whether you want Skype to open every time you start your computer. If you have a lot of friends on Skype and think you will use it a lot, you can leave this box checked, though I wouldn’t recommend this option if you have a slow computer. Skype runs in the background and uses quite a bit of memory so I don’t like to have Skype open automatically every time I turn on the computer. Having Skype open will slow down my computer, so I unchecked this box and I only open Skype when I want to use it. I can set up my calls and video chats with my friends for a certain date and time and open Skype then.
If you want to use the video chat feature of Skype, you will need a webcam (a camera for your computer). Most laptops come with them, most desktop computers do not. Webcams are inexpensive and easy to install on your computer.
You can also video chat using Skype from the iPhone app. Unlike FaceTime (Apple’s video calling app), Skype’s iPhone app allows video calls over 3G, but the speed is painfully slow and video calls use a lot of data, so using Wi-Fi is better.
My favorite times using Skype was when I was living in England and my extended family was living in the US. I was able to use Skype to have video calls with my father. He was able to see his granddaughters play their musical instruments (and they were so proud to show their Granddad how much they had learned!) and meet their new friends in England. The world didn’t seem so big when we were on Skype.
A side note: kudos to companies such as Skype, Sprint, AT&T and Verizon for offering free phone calls to Japan during this crisis. (Check with your carrier for details.)
So give Skype a try and see if Skype opens up a whole new world for you!
Check out this fun video of a hacker who overtook electronic billboards in Times Square in New York City. People are speculating whether it’s real or fake. What do you think?