Tag Archives: Skype

Staying in Touch with Skype

Today’s post comes from guest contributor Lindsey Passaic, an American living in Paris with her husband. When she’s not going from boulangerie to boulangerie searching for the city’s best pain au chocolat,  Lindsey can be found chronicling her adventures living and working abroad on her blog American Girls Are.

by Lindsey Passaic

Brrrrring, brrrrring…

No, that’s not the sound of your landline or mobile ringing. That’s the sound of Skype connecting you to your friends and family near and far. Skype is a computer application that allows you to make calls to all those you want to stay in touch with while traveling or living abroad.  More useful than any travel trinket from Brookstone or SkyMall, Skype is a must have item for any traveler. You can say sayonara to complicated calling cards and expensive long-distance conversations. Skype not only connects you to the voices you wish to hear, but the faces you’d love to see–all for free!

Skype makes communicating easier than ever and with the application’s hassle free set-up and user-friendly design, there’s no excuse for not signing up. Follow these simple steps and before long you’ll be chatting away!

Before getting started, confirm that you have  the following requirements:

  • PC running Windows® XP, Vista or 7, both 32- and 64-bit operating systems OR Mac computer with G4, G5, or Intel processor, 800 MHz or faster (with Macs OS X v.10.3.9 (Panther) or newer);
  • High speed Internet connection;
  • Speakers and microphone—built-in or separate (Note: If you are not sure whether your computer has a microphone, visit Computer Hope.  The general rule is that most desktops do not have a microphone and most newer model laptops do. If you need to purchase a microphone, WebAudioAdvisor offers advice about choosing the right model for your needs.)
  • Web camera—built-in or separate — if you want to use Skype for video calls.

Setting Up Skype

1. Visit the Skype Web site at http://www.skype.com/intl/en-us/home

2. Scroll over the button labeled “Get Skype” and click on “Windows” or “Mac” depending on which type of operating system your computer uses.

3. Click the button labeled “Download Now” and follow the instructions. 

4. Once Skype is downloaded on your computer, open the application and create a user account. You must create a Skype name, password, and submit an e-mail to complete the process. Remember to check that you agree with the terms of usage.

5. After your account is created, Skype will automatically sign you in for the first time.

Making Free Skype Calls

Skype calls are free only to other Skype users. To make calls to landlines and mobile phones, you must purchase Skype credit.  See below for details.

1. To video chat with another Skype user, you must search for their Skype name at the top of your Skype box. Type in the name you are looking for and click “Search for Skype Name.” A new window will pop up with your search results. If you find the contact you are looking for you, highlight his or her name and click “Add contact.” If you do not find who you are looking for, you can continue searching using the person’s full name or e-mail.

2. When you click “Add contact” a new window will appear displaying a message that will be sent to your new contact. Click “OK.” By clicking “OK” the message will be sent and your contact can then choose whether to allow you to see them when they’re online.

3. After clicking “OK” another pop-up window will come up saying that your contact has been added. Click “OK.” Once the contact accepts your request on their end, their Skype name will appear in your Skype box.

4. Your Skype box will list all of the contacts you add. A user is available to chat if there is a green check mark next to their name. If a green check is not next to their name, that user may be away, not available, busy, or offline. You can change your status by clicking the “Account” tab in the Skype toolbar and selecting “Change status.”  Scheduling time to talk is the best way to ensure that you are signed into Skype at the same time as friends and family.

5. To begin a session with one of your contacts, click the green phone button underneath their Skype name. By clicking the green phone button you initiate a call and a new call box will appear. The contact will hear ringing on their end and “pick up the phone.” A call is in progress when the top of the call box reads, “call with (contact name)” and displays the time you’ve been talking. You can continue your audio conversation this way for free as long as you like!

6. If you are equipped with a built in camera or Web cam, you can allow the contact to see your face by clicking the “Video” button. Within a few seconds your face will appear in the call box and that is what the contact sees on their end. To stop the video click the red “Video” button a second time. You can mute the call by clicking the microphone button, hold the call by clicking the pause button, and end the call my clicking the red hang up button. By clicking the starred “More” button you can view the user’s profile, begin a chat, send a file, or send contacts.

Example of Skype box as it appears on a Mac

Making Skype Calls to Landline or Mobile Numbers

1. If you want to call a landline or mobile number, you must purchase Skype credit (starting at 2.2 centimes a minute). To add Skype credit, click the “Help” button on the Skype toolbar and then click “Buy Skype credit.” The amount of Skype credit you use depends on where you are calling and how long your calls are. The Skype Web site offers additional pricing options, including a monthly subscription plan and a premium plan. Skype allows you to design a monthly subscription package that is just right for you. You can pick the country or countries you wish to call and the amount of minutes you need. For example, unlimited minutes to the United States from France costs 5.74 euros per month. The premium plan, at 6.89 euros per month, gives you group video calling—an excellent option for getting all of your friends and family on the same call.

You can purchase Skype credit or a Skype plan using PayPal, VISA, Mastercard, Moneybookers, JCB, or PayByCash.

2. After you have purchased Skype credit or purchased a subscription plan, click the dial pad button at the bottom of your Skype box and enter the number you wish to call.

Sending Free Messages via Skype

To send an instant message to another user or start a chat conversation, click the blue text button underneath their Skype name. A pop-up box will appear and you can type your message at the bottom of the box. If you wish to send a text message (SMS) to a mobile number, you must pay using Skype credit or through a purchased subscription.

Additional Resources

http://www.skype.com/intl/en-us/support/user-guides/

http://www.edtechteacher.org/skypetutorial.html

http://www.northcanton.sparcc.org/~technology/Tutorials/skype.html

Connecting to the Internet

by Rodney Wines

It is difficult for me to compare and contrast services in the U.S. and Europe. I was already in Europe when the Internet boom started, so I don’t have a lot of first-hand experience with service in the U.S.  However, based on conversations with my friends and my experience while visiting the old folks at home, I believe that (at least in the French metropolitan areas) Internet connectivity is at least as good here as in the U.S.. Most Americans may not be aware that the U.S. is toward the bottom of the list of developed countries when it comes to broadband price and performance. Japan is number one; you would get about 60 Mb per second download speed in Japan for the price you’d pay for 5 or 6 Mb in the States. In France, 18 Mb download speed is generally the standard offering, and TV and free VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephone service (sometimes even free service to the U.S. and Canada) are usually included these days.  There is quite a bit of competition, which is driving prices down, but in my opinion it is also driving service down. This problem is not unique to France.

The major service providers are:

Darty

Free

Neuf/SFR

Numericable

Orange (France Telecom) 

Their advertisements are everywhere. Their offerings (and quality of service) seem to change almost daily. You will horror stories for each of these providers but there are also many satisfied customers.

Choosing an Internet service provider is being made more complicated because of what is referred to as convergence. The cable companies are offering phone service, the phone companies are offering TV, and everybody is offering Internet access (often with Wi-Fi bundled in). Choosing a particular offering is like making a pact with the devil; you must be very careful to make sure that the features you need are included and you are not paying for features you’ll never use. The lowest cost offering may not be the best value for you . If ever there was a country where “the devil is in the details,” it is France. Some of the offers may sound very good until you discover that you still have to pay a telephone line rental to France Telecom. Other offers sound great until you discover that the offer is only good for three months and the price jumps after that. Some other companies make it very difficult for you to cancel; they may require two or three months’ written notice.

I personally chose Orange, a service owned by France Telecom, because France Telecom has a toll-free number for English speakers (and when I signed up they had a very helpful operator with a beautiful voice), Orange’s service is generally very reliable, and I could find English-language documentation for their LiveBox modem on their UK Web site.  As always, your mileage may vary. There are cheaper services available, depending upon what features you are looking for.

Editor’s note:  Orange’s English language help line can be reached at 09 69 36 39 00.  Please note that this is not a toll free number.  More details are available on the Orange Web site

Telephone Options

Most of the Internet providers offer what’s called a triple play package including Internet, cable tv, and phone service over the Internet.  Some folks also install a landline in their homes.

If you have broadband service here, then you can perhaps also subscribe to a service in the U.S. such as Vonage. This will give you a local U.S. number which you can give to your friends and family.  This would also allow you to call any number in the U.S. and Canada at little or no additional charge even if your Internet service provider doesn’t give you this feature. Most of the Internet service providers are now providing fixed-rate calling in France via VoIP. They also give you cheaper (and sometimes free) international calls.

If you don’t make enough calls to justify VoIP service, another alternative is a “soft phone” which is a software package that runs on your computer. The software allows you to make free “phone” calls to anyone in the world who is running the same software on their computer, and many of these packages now allow you to make calls from your computer to the regular telephone network very cheaply. You will need a microphone and speakers, or preferably a headset, connected to your computer in order to use such a package.

I have been using Skype for several years. They offer a service called SkypeOut that allows me to call North America and most of Europe for less than two cents a minute.  They have also added a service called SkypeIn. With this service, you can get a “local” telephone number in another country, and the calls to this number are automatically routed to your computer (and you can have the computer calls routed to your local telephone). Skype also has a free iPhone app that works very well, and I think that they provide apps for other smart phones as well. For me, the big advantage of Skype is that calls routed to or from the regular telephone network are “pay-as-you-go”; there is no fixed monthly fee, and the prices are low.

Currently Skype is the most popular product of this type, especially in Europe. When Skype was bought by eBay some time ago, they started adding many additional services such as Skype phones that can be used to make free calls from any Internet hotspot.  There are other VoIP products available as well such as Gizmo. Google and Yahoo are also getting into the act.

Cable or ADSL?

That one gets another rousing “it depends.”

I had always assumed that a medium that was intended to carry high frequency video would carry Internet traffic far better than a medium intended only for poor quality voice signals. I thought, therefore, that cable would be a better choice than Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) which in the U.S. is usually referred to as “DSL”. Originally, that seems to have been true but things aren’t so simple anymore.

Cable = “community”

The cable company is the group of friendly folks who provide your TV channels (unless they are provided by the phone company, but I don’t want to confuse you any more than necessary right now). The major provider in Paris is Numericable (formerly Noos). In case you haven’t noticed, “Noos” is “soon” spelled backwards. Go figure…

The advantage of cable used to be that you could get your Internet and TV access bundled into one package. This is no longer such an advantage (see “convergence” above). The cable bandwidth also used to be higher than ADSL. The disadvantage of cable is that you share the cable with your friends and neighbors. If you have a cable modem today, you can see the lights blinking merrily due to other traffic on the segment. This can slow down your access during peak periods or when your neighbors’ teenagers (or your neighbors) are busily pirating music and movies.

ADSL = broadband over the telephone

An ADSL connection consists of a very sophisticated digital signal processor capable of complicated compression, error detection and correction (your ADSL modem); another very sophisticated digital signal processor capable of complicated compression, error detection and correction (your service provider’s ADSL modem); and some generally rather bad wiring in between. The advantage of ADSL is that you don’t have to share your connection with anyone. The disadvantage is that you must be within a certain distance of your phone company’s nearest branch exchange in order to get ADSL service at all, and the quality can degrade with distance. As the phone company replaces more and more of their old copper wiring with fiber-optic cable (and France Telecom is working very hard at this as we speak), this becomes less of an issue.

In metropolitan Paris, the ADSL coverage seems to be quite good; I currently get 20 Mb per second download speed and 1 Mb per second upload speed, and this is common.  The speeds the providers quote are all “theoretical maximum” speeds which you will rarely if ever see. There are many things which can affect your actual speed including the quality of the wiring in your home, the performance of your computer equipment, and the number of other people who are trying to simultaneously access the Internet site(s) you are trying to access.

I’ve been using ADSL for many years now, and I’m very happy with it. Another advantage of ADSL, which figured into my choice, is that there are usually a lot more telephone outlets in a home than cable outlets. There was a telephone outlet right next to the place where I wanted to install my computer, but the only cable outlet was in the living room. You must plug an ADSL filter (France Telecom provided me with two) into every phone outlet in your home that has a phone connected to it. This separates the ADSL signal from the telephone signal. Otherwise, neither service works properly.

What about Fiber?

As I mentioned earlier, service providers are busily installing it. France Telecom is offering 100mb download and 10mb upload speeds plus HDTV and telephone for about what I’m paying now. All I need is for the people who manage my apartment building to let them install the fiber in the building, and they’ll do that for free.

What about Satellite and Cell Phone Internet Access?

Yes, both are available here, but I don’t have much experience with them. Internet access via the cell phone network has become much cheaper recently. In the summer of 2009 France Telecom offered 2 hours of connect time per month for 5€, and they included a free USB Modem. My speed at home with this was 1.2mb/s. I also recently bought an iPhone, and it has been excellent. I pay far less for my service than my friends in the States.

What about Dial-Up?

Sheesh! You’ll be asking about smoke signals next….If you really want dial-up access, I suspect that most of the service providers also have a dial-in number, but I no longer know anyone who uses dial-up.

What about E-Mail?

Most of the ISPs in the U.S. (and elsewhere) have webmail access; you can access your e-mail by going to their Web site and logging in. You read your mail using your Web browser.  If you want to access your mail using Outlook, or your favorite e-mail client, you can do that as well. You’ll probably be able to read your e-mail just as you did in the States without changing anything on your computer.

Sending mail via your old e-mail account may require a bit of extra work. When you configure an e-mail account using Microsoft Outlook, under “Server Information” you’ll see entries for “Incoming mail server (POP3)” and “Outgoing mail server (SMTP)”. You’ll see something similar for all other popular e-mail clients, and some that aren’t so popular. If your U.S. ISP’s outgoing mail server requires authentication, then everything should work as it did in the States. If outgoing server authentication is not required, then you will have to replace the “Outgoing mail server (SMTP)” with the name of the mail server of your French ISP, or you will have to send via webmail. If your service provider supports IMAP (Gmail does, for example), then things will work as always. If “POP3” and “IMAP” are just alphabet soup to you, I am available for very reasonable rates.

What about French e-mail?

As far as I know, all of the Internet access providers in France will also provide you with e-mail accounts. Folks like Orange and Numericable will set up one account as part of their connection procedure. They also offer mailboxes for family members, and they’ll even offer you space for a web site. You can access your French mailbox from the States just as you access U.S. mail accounts from here.

Yahoo, MSN, Gmail?

Yup, they all work exactly the same. You don’t need to change anything.

If you still have problems  after what you’ve read here, send an e-mail to parisplaces@yahoo.com and I’ll send you Rodney’s e-mail address.  I can personally vouch for the quality of his services.