Alternative to Cell Phones
By Aaron Charles
Cell phones have helped to transform communication. But difficulties such as connection problems and cost may lead you to seek an alternative to cell phone service. There are multiple alternatives, each of which has advantages and disadvantages -- and all of which require Internet access.
Wi-Fi phones are designed to take advantage of wireless Internet networks, so that you can use these networks instead of mobile phone networks. One advantage to using these phones is that the cost, which varies depending on the service provider, is generally less than using cell phone service. A disadvantage is that you might not always have access to a wireless network. Skype makes a Wi-Fi phone -- which looks a lot like a cell phone -- that can make Skype calls or phone calls outside of Skype's platform. For a list of other Wi-Fi phones, see Resources.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) devices, such as MagicJack and Net Duo, let you turn your traditional landline phone into a lower-cost, mobile device. Both devices serve as an interface between your landline phone and the Internet, and your phone calls are carried over the Internet instead of via cable or telephone lines. You typically need to connect your landline phone and either your computer or a modem/router to the device, and you're basically set. The Net Duo Wi-Fi device lets you connect via a wireless network, so you don't need to plug in to a modem/router -- you could bring a small landline phone and your device to any place where you could plug the device into an outlet and connect to a wireless network, then make and receive calls. Each device gives you voicemail and costs about $100 or less for hardware and annual fees. As of the date of publication, MagicJack is expected to offer its own Wi-Fi device.
VoIP programs such as Google Voice, ooVoo and Skype turn your notebook or laptop into a sort of mobile phone. You can make free phone calls to any landline or cell phone with Google Voice (in the U.S. and Canada), and you can make calls with ooVoo and Skype for nominal fees. However, you can't receive phone calls via your computer with Google Voice or ooVoo. You can, however, obtain a Google phone number that rings your cell or landline phone when people call it. Skype does let you purchase a phone number with which you can receive calls via your computer and the Skype platform.
Video Chat and Text Programs
Google, ooVoo and Skype give you the ability to conduct video chats with others using the same Google, ooVoo or Skype software. Furthermore, Facebook, using Skype and ooVoo technology, lets you make video calls to those whom you're connected to. If you've used your cell phone mostly to send text messages, you can send SMS text messages with Google's Gmail platform, Yahoo Messenger and Skype.
Aaron Charles began writing about "pragmatic art" in 2006 for an online arts journal based in Minneapolis, Minn. After working for telecom giant Comcast and traveling to Oregon, he's written business and technology articles for both online and print publications, including Salon.com and "The Portland Upside."