by Martin French
Here in the Lab we’re nice people. So much so, when we find something useful that might just save the hard pressed folks in dance a little bit of cash we are more than willing to spend our time, money, expertise and toil into the wee small hours making sure it actually works (do get on with it! Ed!)
VOIP is not a word that many of you will be familiar with. In fact, it’s not even a word, it’s an acronym. VOIP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol, or phone calls over the internet if you want to get all simple about it.
Now I know what you’re thinking!
“All we bloody need in our lives is yet another way for people to get a hold of us when we would really rather be left alone. If it wasn’t bad enough with regular phones, cell phones, SMS, MMM, IM, iChat, MSN and anything else with a completely incomprehensible acronym you now want us to mess about with VOIP?”
It would be fair to say that in todays world there are far too many ways for people to get in touch with us or ignore us depending on their current mood. But remember, all of these things can be switched off and VOIP is no different so let’s get past the negative and embrace the positive by answering a few simple questions courtesy of our Intrepid Reader!
Ok, I’ll bite, how does it work?
How it works doesn’t really matter, what’s important is that it works and works really well, let’s leave the science to those that care for such things and we can get on with the business of talking to one another for free, no matter where we are in the world.
Sounds spiffy! What do I need to make it work then?
All you need is a computer connected to the internet and some free software from a VOIP provider like Skype (they’re our favourite so we’ll focus on them for this piece). You also need a microphone - to speak with - and some headphones - to listen with - although you can use regular speakers if you wish.
It’s already starting to sound complicated!
Not at all, most laptop computers have microphones built-in* and you can purchase one for your desktop machine and hook it up in no time. Windows, OSX and Linux are all supported by Skype. If you have Bluetooth on your computer you can even use the same wireless headset you have for your cell phone. The software is simple to install and configure and the Skype website has plenty of helpful information if you get stuck. (including the best introduction movie ever made!)
Let’s say I’ve set it all up, how do I make a call?
Again, this is simplicity itself. If the person you are calling has Skype then you need to know their user name (ours is Article19CDO), add them to your contact list, double click their name, wait for them to answer, talk away, simple!
If you don't want to add the person to your contact list just put their user name into the call box and hit the 'call' button.
Your list of contacts will also show the persons 'status' which will let you know if they are available for calls, away from the computer or offline.
And this is free?
All of it is free, the software, the calls, everything. Skype makes money by selling SkypeOut which is how you can call land lines and cell phones using Skype. There is no obligation to do so however and you are free to use Skype as much as you like without ever handing over any money!
Sounds too good to be true, actually, how does it sound?
Depending on how good your microphone is, and the microphone of the person you are calling, it sounds better or the same as using a normal phone, even when calling land lines or cell phones. The person on the other end will have no idea that you’re not talking on a regular phone! In fact, you can buy a regular looking phone handset that plugs into your computer, so you can even fool yourself.
Very sneaky indeed!
What about those calls to regular phones?
Skype call this ‘SkypeOut’ and the costs are slightly cheaper than using a normal phone service. Calls to cell phones are a little bit cheaper in some cases but the real savings are to be had in making international calls to several of the largest countries (USA, Canada, Australia, Western Europe, Hong Kong, South Korea, China, Chile, etc).
Calls to regular phones in those countries cost about £0.012 per minute so it’s a bargain. The Skype website has a complete list of call costs to other countries.
Of course, as mentioned, if you call another Skype user it’s free.
What’s the advantage for dance then?
I thought you would never ask. If there is one thing the dance community do an awful lot of it’s talking, especially talking on the phone. Imagine if the vast majority of the dance/arts community was using Skype to conduct most of their communications then we, here in The Lab, imagine, doing some rough arithmetic in collective heads, the savings would run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, particularly on all that unnecessary cell phone usage.
Now using a computer to make calls is certainly not as convenient as a cell phone, how could it be, but remember, Skype will work on any internet connected computer and you can sign into your account on any computer with Skype installed. What it lacks in pocket sized portability it makes up for in costing far less than the rip-off charges from wireless phone services, BT/Telewest/NTL and their ilk!
A laptop with a wireless internet connection (along with your Bluetooth headset) will work in exactly the same way as a cell phone, but without the huge bill and you can take a load off, sip a cappuccino and make your calls. Free wireless internet is spreading fast so why not hop on and take advantage of it for more than just surfing the web?
The very idea that a completely free, easy to use, global communication service exists should be motivation enough for the dance community, and the arts in general for that matter, to jump on board and start talking, there is no excuse.**
It sounds great, what else can it do?
You can do file transfers, instant messaging and the Windows version of Skype can do video chat and SMS messaging, that’s coming soon to OSX apparently! It will also work on Pocket PC (one of those little PDA things). You can also get a SkypeIn number (so people with regular phones can call you via Skype) and of course, voice mail.
If you have a website you can have a natty little dynamic button that lets other people know if you are available or not, ours is snuggled away down on the left of the screen on every page, if you want to call us on Skype, just double click and you’re off to the races - sort of!
What are the chances of dance picking this up on a large scale?
The only thing stopping them is their own lack of willingness to do it. You can’t argue with free and for a profession that is always complaining about money, and we are the biggest complainers of all, there really is no excuse. There will be teething troubles getting to grips with new technology but we all have to learn new stuff and how many new things can we actually prove will be certain to save us an awful lot of money?
Not many I’ll wager!
What’s a cell phone?
Go away, download Skype, tell your friends and give us a call!
* All current Mac computers, excluding Powermacs, have microphones and Bluetooth built in as standard.
** Certain places may be stuck with brand new computers that have no sound capability because the people responsible were too short sighted to see beyond word processing and writing essays!