Back in the olden days, when electronic devices were actually used for their originally intended purposes, a phone was a device you used for voice calls.
Then came mobiles, which became used for voice calls and text messaging. And playing Snake.
Next came the smartphone, effectively combining the laptop, PDA, pager and mobile phone (plus a camera) into a single pocket-sized device.
Today, we still use our smartphones for texting and data, yet the volume of traditional-style voice calls has been dropping.
Perhaps that’s because internet voice calls are now so easy and cheap to make.
Indeed, in many cases, voice over internet protocol (VoIP) communications are free of charge.
It’s easy to make voice calls via a desktop computer, tablet or other mobile device, although you need to download software for some services.
You can also use WiFi calling with your smartphone, over your home broadband or a WiFi hotspot, to make voice or video calls even when you can’t get a phone signal.
A voice in the wilderness
Most people have heard of desktop VoIP services like Skype, but there are actually four basic types of VoIP call.
These are PC to phone, app to phone, PC to PC and app to app calls. And some of these don’t require a phone at all – or even a phone number.
Some services allow you to make all four call types, while others are more restrictive.
Some charge for calls outside the service but permit free calls between users, even when the callers are in different countries.
Many providers of internet voice calls support video calling as well, and this is likely to become more widespread as video calling becomes ‘the new normal’.
WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, FaceTime (Apple) and Duo (Google) can all be used to make voice and/or video calls without charge. All are available in Android and iOS versions.
Many people use these apps on their smartphones, though they’re compatible with desktops and tablets as well.
This may be cheaper, since calls made on mobile devices use mobile data. Desktop calls and home-based tablets will harness your (usually unlimited) home broadband data allowance.
WhatsApp and Google Duo can be installed on Windows or Mac desktops, and on PCs running other operating systems such as Linux.
However, FaceTime can only be used with iOS and MacOS devices.
Making voice calls or video calls via a desktop PC shouldn’t involve paying more than your normal monthly broadband bill.
However, some of the more popular voice and video calling apps are only able to communicate with people on your contact list.
Fortunately, there may be workarounds…
Calling without a contacts list
If you have a compatible mobile phone or device (plus any necessary firmware), WiFi or 4G calling could solve this problem.
Internet voice calls using these protocols are made in the normal way, so you can type in a number in the traditional way.
However, some providers charge these calls against your calling allowance rather than your data allowance. Depending on your plan, that may cost more than other VoIP options.
Some phone companies also restrict calls to the UK, preventing customers from contacting people abroad.
WiFi and 4G calling may help when you need to make a call but have no phone signal. And that’s crucial if you live in an area with good home broadband but poor mobile signals.
Alternatively, you can use a standard VoIP service like Skype. This lets you call ‘real’ phone numbers (and people who aren’t using Skype themselves) via mobile devices or desktops.
But while voice and video calls between Skype users are normally free, you may have to pay for calls to non-users.
Similar arrangements apply to other VoIP providers including Vonage and Localphone.
Something on the side
Many providers offer more than just internet voice calls.
Some support video calling, others provide texting or messaging options, and many have apps that let you use services on both fixed and mobile devices.
As a result, it pays to do some research before choosing a VOIP provider, especially if you need to pay for calls.
Conversely, if you simply want to stop paying for domestic voice calls, and most of your contacts are on common platforms like Gmail, you can choose from a range of free services.