Talk is cheap

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Looking for an inexpensive way to make international calls? The answer may be found on the Internet. Veronica Nethiker tests transformed telephone technology.

Internet Telephony Service Providers, or ITSPs, abound in this technologically charged world. There's no longer a need to shell out thousands of yen each month in international phone charges; if you call long-distance via the World Wide Web, your charges will be much lower - and maybe even free. When you're phoning through the Internet, the person you're calling doesn't have to have any special equipment to hear you, and oftentimes cannot tell that you are reaching them through your computer.

What you need to have is a PC (some ITSPs are not compatible with Macintosh computers) with at least Windows95, a full-duplex sound card, a minimum Internet connection rate of 14.4kbps, speakers or earphones, and a microphone. Some ITSPs sell headsets with earphones and a microphone so you can speak more naturally.

There are three prime options for people in Japan that want to talk on the phone using the Web; e-Phone Plus, Dialpad and AT&T @phone. Some require a computer, while others send the information through the Internet using regular phones. Some charge a small fee for their services, while others are free (not including Internet Service Provider [ISP] or local phone charges).

e-Phone Plus 
e-Phone is an ITSP that saves you money by circumventing the toll charges of ordinary telephone services. How does it work? Well, they say it best: "By compressing telephone voice signals into data packets, voice calls are instantly transformed from analog to digital signal and transmitted via the Internet to a regular telephone. Once the call reaches its destination, the data is transformed back into analog voice format and forwarded to the recipient via the public switched telephone network (PSTN)." You can make long-distance calls from your PC to a phone, and e-Phone also offers a phone-to-phone service using calling cards called e-Phone Select (calls to the US: JY13/min; England: JY21/min, Philippines: JY28/min; flat rate 24 hours a day). To use e-Phone Select, you buy a prepaid ID (JY1000 or JY3000), call an ISF access point, dial the destination number, and begin talking.

To use e-Phone Plus, all you have to do is download the (free) software by ISF, then order a prepaid ID (available in JY1000, JY3000, and JY5000 denominations; act now and you can download a free prepaid ID to test the service). Once everything is set up, making local and international calls is extremely easy; simply dial the number, click on the "Call" button, and the phone will begin to ring!

A sampling of rates: Canada JY7/min; Germany, JY10/min; Hong Kong, JY7/min; UK, JY7/min; Thailand, JY30/min; US, JY7/min.

To use this service, first you must register yourself as a Dialpad user - enter your name, a password, some demographic information and you're all set. With Dialpad, you can make PC-to-PC calls for free (well, only if the owner of the PC you're calling is also a Dialpad user). The cost is covered by the teeny bit of advertising you'll see on your screen when placing the call. You can also dial PC-to-phone. Check the website for details and rates.

AT&T @phone 
AT&T @phone offers low rates for Japan callers making domestic long-distance and international phone calls. There's no registration fee or monthly charges - you are only charged for the calls you make. You can telephone someone using your regular phone, but the call is routed through the Internet. To use this service, you must have a credit card. See the website for details and rates.

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