Monday, January 12, 2009

Telephony: Free phone calls using Netgear's SPH200W


A Skype enabled handheld device offers the convenience of a cell phone with the low cost of Skype to make phone calls anywhere.

A Skype device removes the need to keep your computer on while still allowing you to communicate to Skype contacts or regular phones.

The Goal
Save money on international calls using a Skype device.

Time to Implement
About 15 minutes overall, easy enough for anyone to do.

The Required Components (I used three Skype phones and Skype accounts to perform this test)
  • $0 - Skype Account: Follow this link to create a new Skype account. Skip this step if you have an account. I used three existing accounts.
  • $150 - Netgear SPH200W: I ordered three phones separately, one for my mother, one for a friend, and one for me. All three phones came from Amazon. The price was great, even better than Best Buy with shipping included, and I got a special discount on my Amazon account.
  • $4/mo - Skype calling plan: Select a plan to make calls. I chose the unlimited US and Canada plan. There are great plans for US, Europe and parts of Mexico. Coverage is increasing globally for regional plans. If you don't see your country, select the best overall option.
  • $10 - SkypeOut: These credits allow you to make long distance calls outside of your selected plan at special rates. I call South America and the Caribbean. Start with $10 and select auto-recharge. This makes it handy to use.
  • $30/yr - SkypeIn: This allows you to have a phone number that will ring to your Skype phone. Just select a phone number from more than 20 countries, and most states in the US.

The Test

Preparation –
  1. Skype Account – Creation of an account is easy, and addition of services is easy. My mother was able to do it. My friend is computer literate, but he feels that computers are conspiring against him. I helped him with the creation of his account. His mother did it without assistance.
  2. Purchase – Amazon sent the phones within a few days of my order, even though I only selected the free shipping option.
Configuration –
  1. Firmware – I upgraded my phone to firmware version You can download it here. . Netgear uses an unusual USB/Serial driver that does not install in Vista 64bit. I used my XP laptop and the driver installed easily. The firmware took about an hour to install.
  2. Configuration – I followed the on screen prompts to add my user ID and password for my account.
  3. Connect – The phone immediately found my Dlink router, but it would not connect. It took four tries to connect to the router. I found that if I keep trying to reconnect, it eventually does in my case.
  4. Documentation – The phone is easy enough to setup. Aside from the UPNP issue, it seems fairly straight forward.
Phone Calls –
I made a number of calls using my Skype account and my Skype phone, mom’s Skype phone and my friend’s phone in the Caribbean. (rated 1 -> 10, where 7 is good cell phone and 10 is land line quality)
  1. Skype Phone to Skype PC – 6
  2. Skype Phone to Skype Phone – 7
  3. Skype Phone to mobile, US – 9
  4. Skype Phone to land line, US – 10
  5. Skype Phone to mobile, Caribbean – 8
  6. Skype Phone to land line, South America – 8
  7. Land line to Skype Phone – 8
  8. Mobile to Skype Phone - 8
  9. Skype Phone to Skype Phone, US – 9
  10. Skype Phone to Skype Phone, Caribbean – 8
Special –
SkypeIn allows you to receive calls from a land line phone to your Skype account, or to the Netgear phone. It is a handy feature ,and one that makes new technology very approachable and familiar.
The Cost
Skype cost me $44 to setup for the year (SkypeIn, SkypeOut, Skype Credits, Skype US and Canada account). I called Caribbean at $.22/minute to cell phones and $.03/minute to South America. I used about $8 in calls to the Caribbean and $less than $2 for South America. I spent less than $10 for service, and about $4 on a monthly basis for the full service, or far less than long distance service would cost me on my home phone.

The Summary
Netgear’s SPH200W Skype Phone serves as a suitable alternative to a land line or mobile phone. It’s performance is acceptable, and the pricing is excellent. The SPH200W performs as well as or better than a cell phone in most circumstances, at a fraction of the cost. Many telephony alternatives may be available in the next year or two, but for now, Netgear’s phone is inexpensive, easy to use, and passed my mother’s requirements. My wife uses my phone frequently. My friend still has not used his Skype phone, but his mother has called me a number of times. If you make calls out of your country, or your phone calls exceed your minutes afforded to you by your cellular plan, this is a reasonable and inexpensive solution.

If you want to try this yourself, use the links below. One takes you to Skype, and the other to Amazon to order the phone. Leave a comment if you find this useful, need more info, or just have a thought.

Images permitted for use for and through affiliate referral program
SPH200W lo-res photo from Netgear website

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