How to make free or low-cost calls over the internet using your PC, laptop or mobile phone. We show you how.

The £6 ‘broadband tax’ proposed by the previous government may have been scrapped, but most of us will still be forking out a little extra on our phone bills from now on. BT and TalkTalk have increased their line rental by 50p per month, and other service providers are expected to follow suit.

But while it isn’t quite so cheap to talk as it once was, if you’ve got a broadband connection then you can claw back some savings. Voice over IP (VoIP) lets you make free and low-cost phone calls that are routed over the web.

VoIP, which is sometimes referred to as internet telephony, converts speech into a digital signal and sends it as packet data across the internet, reconverting it at the other end.

If you’ve got an ADSL connection rather than cable, you’ll still have to fork out for the line rental. But rather than adding on unlimited call bundles that can cost between £5 and £10 per month, you can make free calls to other VoIP users. Having installed the necessary software you can use your PC speakers and microphone to communicate.

Providers such as Skype also let you make low-cost calls to landlines, mobiles and international numbers – usually for less than it would cost to use a landline.

And investing in a webcam will let you see the person you’re chatting to onscreen. Your laptop may even have one already installed.

The quality of your web connection is important for VoIP; it’ll need to be steady to ensure smooth communication.

Usefully, a number of VoIP providers offer smartphone apps, including Skype and Truphone. Using your handset’s 3G or Wi-Fi connection, VoIP can also help you score some savings on your mobile phone bill.

Over the following pages, we show you how to make free or low-cost VoIP calls on your PC or laptop using Skype and on your mobile phone using Truphone.

Using Skype on a PC

Step 1. Head to skype.com and click ‘Get Skype for Windows’. Install the downloaded file and launch the program. Create a Skype account by entering your email, a carefully chosen username and a password. Read and agree to the terms and conditions, then click ‘Create account’.

Skype step 1

Step 2. You’ll need to enter your location to help friends and family find you. You can also enter your mobile number, enabling contacts to get hold of you offline. This and your date of birth are optional. Click Ok. You’ll be offered the chance to find out more about how Skype works, or skip this and start using Skype at once.

Skype step 2

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Make free or low-cost calls over the internet using your PC, laptop or mobile phone. We show you how.

Step 3. Skype will display any connected microphones and webcams on the main screen. Choose either Ok or ‘Don’t use for Skype’ for each item. Alternatively, select Tools, Options and use the Video Settings to select your webcam, and the Audio Settings to select the microphone you want to use. Click Save.

Skype step 3

Step 4. You can search Skype for people you know by name or email address. Results can be filtered by country, age range and gender. Click ‘Add contact’ to make someone appear in your contacts list. You can also import contacts from your email account or Facebook. Local businesses can be found on Skype, too.

Skype step 4

Step 5. Before making your first Skype call, check your setup is functioning correctly using Skype’s sound test – a dedicated button is located under your contacts list. Press Call in the window that appears and a voice will prompt you to speak after the beep. Skype records your dialogue and plays it back to you.

Skype step 5

Step 6. To call someone, double-click their name in your contacts list and click either the Call or Video call link on their profile page. Once you’re connected, their profile picture will switch from a static image to video. A smaller video thumbnail of you will be shown inset. Click the red handset icon to end the call.

Skype step 6

>> NEXT PAGE: Using Truphone on a mobile phone

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Make free or low-cost calls over the internet using your PC, laptop or mobile phone. We show you how.

Using Truphone on a mobile phone

Step 1. Truphone lets iPhone and Android handset owners make VoIP calls. Download the Truphone app from the Android Market and click Install. Launch the app and click ‘Create new account’. Enter a username, password and email address, then click Create. You may get a warning stating that the app hasn’t been tested for your handset and some functions may not work correctly. Click Ok to continue.

Truphone step 1

Step 2. The Truphone Dialler has a mobile phone-style keypad. Dial a number on the keypad or select someone from your contacts list, then press the green Call button. Truphone routes the call over the internet, making it cheaper than a standard phone call on most mobile networks. Remaining credit is displayed in the bottom lefthand corner and is adjusted after the call is ended. Truphone for Android offers 50p free credit on signup.

Truphone step 2

Step 3. You can also use the Truphone app to call other Truphone users for free using a Wi-Fi connection. Click on the number field in the Dialler to access the onscreen keypad. Use this to enter the username of the person you want to talk to, then press Call. Note, however, that we found no way of identifying which of your contacts are on Truphone. You must ask them for their username and enter it when prompted.

Truphone step 3

Step 4. Truphone doesn’t restrict you to calling only other Truphone users. You can also contact Skype and Google Talk http://www.google.com/talk/ users for free when you’re in range of a Wi-Fi network. You’ll need to add these accounts to the list of the IM services within the app. Select More from the top righthand side of the Dialler screen and choose the IM option.

Truphone step 4

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Make free or low-cost calls over the internet using your PC, laptop or mobile phone. We show you how.

Step 5. From the Services tab, select ‘Add IM Service’ and choose one of four options: MSN, AIM, Skype and GTalk. After entering your username and password, press ‘Add IM Service’. Under the Services tab, you’ll see an icon for the service you just added and an option to sign out. Select the IM tab to see your contacts from the added services, with those available highlighted in green.

Truphone step 5

Step 6. To talk to one of your available Skype or Gmail friends, click on their contact name. A text box and onscreen keyboard will pop up to let you type and send them an instant message. Alternatively, use the menu button to bring up the option to call them. Tap the call option and Truphone will initiate the phone call.

Truphone step 6

Step 7. Truphone also offers cheaper international calls. Truphone Anywhere redirects your call to an access number in your country. This connects to the Truphone server and completes your call to the international destination. When you dial an international number, the screen will display the message ‘Setting up the call’ and a voice message will explain that you’ll be connected by Truphone Anywhere – hang up if you don’t want to use the service.

Truphone step 7

Step 8. Truphone for Android lets you view and top up your account from your handset. From the More menu, select My Account. The first time you do this you will be required to enter your mobile phone number for validation. You’ll then be able to view your balance and call rates, register a credit card and change your password.

Truphone step 8

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