Friday, August 17, 2007

Why use calling cards in the age of Skype?

Many of my friends ignore calling cards, preferring to use Skype or other online voice chat to make long distance calls, often for free. With products that allow you to talk for free, why would you still need a calling card? Well...

1. Not everyone has access to the right computer equipment and a good enough internet connection.
That shouldn't be too hard to believe. Think of your parents - do they know that they can plug a microphone into the computer, let alone where? And think of the last time you were on a wireless internet connection. It was probably unreliable enough to make you question using regular instant messenger, let alone some demanding voice software. Some applications have addressed this by letting you use your computer to call out to a regular phone, but guess what - that's not free! And calling cards offer significantly lower rates than what those outbound computer-to-phone calls will run you.

2. Online chat isn't always appropriate.
"Hey, prospective international employer. I'll be on Skype from 3-6 GMT. Meet me there." As if! Voice chat is appropriate for some industries, but not for all. I might be able to revise that last sentence in a few years, but until then, some thing just require a plain old phone. What about calling a hotel in Italy to make honeymoon reservations. Think you can Skype them?

There's also a question of quality here - the "jitter" that can come with network delays (that weird-sounding thing that happens when syllables get blurred together or whole words get lost) might be acceptable when calling friends, but what about for business?

3. You're travelling.
Ever tried to track down a reliable internet connection while you're on the road? Or in a foreign country? Internet cafes are pretty common, but not many have equipment for voice chat (and many are so loud that it wouldn't matter). Also, the last time I was in Europe I paid about 15 eurocents/minute to use a computer - a phone card would have given me a rate of about 7 cents USD. Cruise ship internet connections average about 70-90 cents per minute. Enough said.

4. Scheduling online meetings is a pain.
But then add in time differences and computer glitches (network outages, equipment failures) and you've left everyone with their headsets on, staring expectantly at their buddy lists while they wait for your arrival to the chat. Most times, someone has to call the delayed party to figure out what's going on - why not save the hassle and just do the whole meeting over the phone?

I'm all for new technology, but sometimes there's a reason to hang onto the old stuff, too. Calling cards can save you time, money, and a lot of trouble in many situations.

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