It's easy to make free or inexpensive phone calls to almost anywhere in the world using your computer. You don't even necessarily need a super-fast Internet connection. Many IM and chat services include voice chat, which lets you talk to your friends who are online.
Some services go a step further, allowing you to call any phone number and even providing you with a phone number for others to call. As these services are often very inexpensive, some people use them to replace their traditional, or landline, phone service entirely.
You may have heard the term VoIP (pronounced "voyp"), which stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. VoIP can be used to describe any kind of online phone service.
In order to make phone calls from your computer, you'll need a microphone and speakers, or better yet, a headset with a microphone. If your computer has a built-in microphone and speakers, you may be able to use those instead. There are also adapters that will let you connect a regular phone to your computer or your router.
Different services will have their own hardware and software requirements, but most computers from the last few years will have more than enough processing power. In addition, a broadband Internet connection is recommended but not necessarily required.
Will an online phone service work for your needs? Review some of the pros and cons to help decide:
There are numerous online phone services, but a couple of popular ones include Skype and Google Hangouts (which can also run within Gmail). Skype is especially flexible, as it allows you to choose from various levels of service, which range from free to paid subscriptions.
Be aware that some services only allow you to voice chat with other users of the same service, and don't permit you to call phone numbers or get your own number. Before you start using an online phone service, make sure it provides all of the features you need.
If you are interested in using online phone chat, we have tutorials on the following: