Calling Home Cheaply using VOIP

April 5, 2009

Calling home, or indeed making telephone calls, is one of the hidden expenses which frequently blights a grad students life. While AT&T, TMobile et al already charge a significant amount ($40 – $60, depending on your plan) on monthly charges, they charge exorbitant per minute rates if you ever decide to make calls in the daytime. My plan, for example charges $0.45 per minute, for daytime calls (6AM to 9PM).

The only alternative solution to this is to use services using Voice Over Internet Protocol. Now there are different ways of using VOIP services. Lets have a look at them. As a reference, I am going to cite call charges to India for comparison purposes.

1. Get a VOIP connection at one of the many VOIP providers. I personally use VoipRaider, but there are many others to choose from. You can get a list here. All these services ask you to signup and buy some credit, like a prepaid phone card. You can then download an application to your computer and make calls using it. Dont expect high levels of support, but the services are adequate. There can be a delay of 1 – 2 seconds at times, especially if you are calling during peak times, but is much less at night. Also, most of these sites allow you to make one trial call before buying the service. You can thus pick and choose.

At the time of writing this post, VoipRaider charges $0.048 per minute to make calls to India, and $0.054 to send an SMS.

2. If you have a mobile phone supporting WiFi, you can probably install fring, a free application which allows you to connect to voip servers, and make VOIP calls directly on your mobile phone bypassing the cellular network. All the VOIP services listed above (VoipRaider, VoipBuster, etc) have an SIP server, and you can login to them via fring. I use this myself, but I have noticed a slight additional delay when I call using VoipRaider through fring. For a list of phones which support the fring application, go here. Most WinMobile, Symbian 8/9 phones and iPhones are supported. For installing fring on the iPhone, use this link.

3. The final approach is to  use a service which require you to dial an access number through your cellular network. While this will not save you any money if you use this service over the daytime, it is cheaper to use at night to call internationally than the voip services list in the first step. For example. dial91, which is the service I use, charges $0.026 per minute to call India, as opposed $0.048 in VoipRaider. Also, call quality is significantly better, with barely any delays at all.

The best approach would be to use a combination of the above. I use fring to call during the daytime, and dial91 at night. To make a comparison, assuming an average rate of $0.035 per minute, it would cost me $16 per month to call home for 15 minutes every day. The same number of minutes on my AT&T connection would cost me $200.

I would like to add, that these are the options I know. If you know of any additional/better ones, please do comment. I would love to know. Oh, and finally, the above services are available in the US and Canada, in case somebody is interested.



  1. I would highly recommend Skype. I’ve been using it so far, with the addition of a Skype-out account that allows me to call regular phones cheaply using my computer. I can also call free to other Skype users anywhere in the world, and even my parents now use Skype for this purpose. There are hardly any delays on calls to the UK and Israel, but I haven’t tried calling India yet. The current rate for India is $ 0.092. There is also a monthly service (a subscription for unlimited calls for under $10), but I think India is not on that service yet.

    There are a couple of additional features that I haven’t yet tried, but I think can be of benefit (especially for an iPhone user). The first is the new iPhone/iPod Touch application. The second is Skype-in which allows you to set-up an online phone number so people can call you from a regular phones. The combination of the two could mean that it may be possible to disconnect completely from the blood-sucking phone companies and only use the WiFi features on your iPhone.

  2. I like the phrase “blood sucking” :). Actually from what I understand, Skype provides a good quality VOIP service, and the reason I didn’t mention it is primarily that it costs twice the other two options. But I agree that the online phone number concept is intriguing. I’m certainly going to find out more about it!

  3. Skype would be my ideal as well. The online phone number is an awesome capability. While I have no need to call anyone out-of-country, I do know people who use skype in place of a cell phone for most things. The other thing about skype is, if you have someone in India who has a computer and has a skype number, you can call them from your computer for free. Skype-to-Skype calls are free.

  4. Another app / device you could use is MagicJack. Rather, this is a useful app for someone in India trying to call you. They had some good deals, and once you place an order, a device (with a USB on one end and a phone jack socket on another) is delivered. Upon plugging this USB device, the firmware is automatically installed, and all you need to do is attach a phone jack (cordless or fixed) to the phone jack socket. No more headphones and mikes. One has to pay a yearly fee (it varies from offer to offer. I got a year’s worth calls for 50$). You can make unlimited calls to US/Canada.
    Clarity was mostly good. Except on rare instances when the clarity would drop a little bit. But that happens with most apps right?

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