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Introduction

Skype and Vonage logos

If you want to talk to someone using your broadband Internet connection, you have many choices, but two basic options. You can make free calls using the voice capabilities of an instant messaging (IM) application or one of the free VoIP services such as StanaPhone. But you'll generally find that you can only call other users of whatever service you choose for free.

If you want to connect to someone on another VoIP network, you either won't be able to or won't be able to jump through the configuration hoops required to do it. And if you want to connect to someone with a normal land-line or mobile phone, you'll end up paying for the ability to do so.

The second option is to sign up for one of the commercial Voice over IP (VoIP) services that are plying you with visions of unlimited free calling for a low monthly fee. There are many plans and providers, but the goal of these providers is to look, feel and work as much like your existing phone - except with snazzy features thrown in that you either can't get from your local phone company, or would end up paying extra for.

Or perhaps I should say these were the choices until one of the IM / softphone services used viral marketing to break out of the pack and added features that enabled it to steal serious business from conventional VoiP providers and old-guard telcos alike.

By worldwide subscriber count, the most popular commercial VoIP access service provider is Vonage, and the most widespread IM-based service is Skype. As a regular user of both services, I have some perspectives on both offerings. In this article, I'll examine whether Skype can be a viable alternative as a VoIP service provider.

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