Until now, the best-known name in VoIP (voice over IP) was Skype. But high-street retail group Dixons Store Group (DSG) may change all that with Freetalk, an off-the-shelf VoIP service that enables consumers to enjoy web-based telephony and markedly lower phone bills.
Although there are plenty of VoIP services - every second ISP seems to have jumped aboard of late - the DSG version is significant because of the company's high-street and online presence and the Freetalk service's low cost. It isn't tied to a specific broadband service and is available as an annual subscription or on a fixed-rate month-by-month basis. You can use your standard phone rather than needing a specific one for VoIP.
The exact setup depends whether your broadband connection is via USB modem, Ethernet cable or LAN router. In essence, you add in your Freetalk adapter box via a network cable that connects to the LAN or WAN port and thence to the LAN port on your PC or your Ethernet router.
We tried out both USB modem and Ethernet router and (unsurprisingly) found the latter provided much stronger call quality, with far less noise on the line. Green lights on the box indicate a successful physical connection; you then need to tell your PC to allow other hardware on the network to use your broadband connection.
Armed with your MAC address and the phone number Freetalk provides, you then activate your service over the phone and are all set.
You can choose any area code you wish. Although outgoing landline calls within the UK are free, if you like to chatter with friends and family in a specific part of the country, it makes sense to select that geographical location to ensure you are all charged the minimum amount.
Though not bowled over by the clarity of calls, we had no problem calling New York VoIP-to-VoIP and chatting away in the knowledge there'll be no hefty bill coming.