Archive for the ‘Guides’ Category

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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.

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GreyHound: A Review

March 30, 2009

In my life, as an itinerant traveler, I am used to travelling in buses like no other I’ve been in khataara village buses, which are astoundingly sturdy, disguised “Vaal-vos”, trucks with intricate hand painted signs (once) and actual Volvos plying their trade in Karnataka.

I had to go visit my sister this weekend, and not having a car license, or any money, decided to travel Greyhound. I spent 28 hours travelling up and down, and had a wonderful time in State College (more on that later), but I think the journey warrants a guide to grad students looking to travel cheaply.

PLUSES:

– I was in 9 different buses in the course of my trip, and ALL of them were on time, in fact all of them were about 15 minutes early. While this was a necessity, considering I had to change so many buses, I was nevertheless very grateful.

– All the buses have a restroom. To those of you who are thinking, Pfui! I can hold it in, remember, the urge to use a restroom is inversely proportional to the accessibility of the restroom. In fact, I used it only once, for the sheer novelty of it, but had a restful journey knowing it was there.

– The stations are quite good. To anybody used to Indian bus stations, Greyhound stops will seem like an airport. Good restroom facilities, vending machines, and even restaurants in the major stops. My only crib were the highly uncomfortable metal chairs, whose only scoring point is that they make the bus seats look comfortable.

MINUSES

– Queues/Reservation Policy. This was the most irritating part of the journey, even more than making all the connections. Greyhound does not have a reservation policy, and seats are offered on a first come first served basis. Which means that I had to stand in queue for half an hour to an hour for each bus I took. I don’t understand why they can’t have a check in system, where passengers are allowed to check in one hour before the bus starts. It would save a lot of trouble.

– The three hour bus connections. Sure, I was going from Cincinnati to State College, and didn’t expect a direct bus, but did I HAVE to change 5 buses, at 12AM, 3AM and 5AM in the morning? Would it have been really that tough to have a direct bus from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh to State College?

– Cost: Let’s put it this way. Had I rented a car for 3 days, including fuel and insurance, I would have spent $20 more, and managed the journey in 14 hours, instead of 28 hours. Getting a license suddenly makes a lot more sense.

TIP:

If this is the first time you’re using Greyhound, buy your tickets online. And before you buy the ticket, sign up for the Road Rewards program, which is there right on the site. Advantages? You get a 10% discount on the first trip you make, and you can collect points for free tickets later. Mind you, after having traveled in a bus for 10+ hours, you might just decide to work harder, procrastinate less, and buy yourself a car.

CONCLUSION

At the end of the day, you pay for what you get. As I said before, tickets are way cheaper than airline tickets (around 7 times cheaper in my case), and in case you don’t want to drive, and don’t mind the hassle of standing in line multiple times, Greyhound is a good choice. But the best thing going for it is (at least by my experience) is their punctuality. They get you there, on time, and the staff is generally helpful. As long as you don’t mind sitting next to strangers for extended periods of time, and take care of your belongings, it’s not a bad way to travel. A definite B.