Convergence

They say that technology is converging and that our gadgets will soon do much more. I’m not sure who they are, but it seems to be true – mobile phones can take photos and play games, computers double up as VCRs, and even fridges are online.

My apartment here in the Czech Republic is a fine example of Czech architecture, and is lovely and spacious. It’s got most of the modern conveniences I could want, except for a telephone line. I have a mobile phone, but it’s very expensive to call my family back in England, and just as expensive for them to call me.

I hate shameless plugs, and this is sounding awfully like one, but for the past few months I’ve been using Skype. This is a nifty bit of software that allows you to talk for free to people on the internet. This is handy enough, but they also offer a service, at a cost, called SkypeOut. This gives you the ability to call normal telephones from your computer, and thus solving my landline problem. The bonus is the calls are much cheaper than you could get via a traditional phone.

Recently they’ve introduced a service called SkypeIn. This is where it gets clever. You pay your 10 euros and select a telephone number in a country of your choice. This becomes your number for three months and whenever anyone with a normal telephone dials it, they get put through to your computer (provided you are online and running Skype). The best part is that the people dialing you only pay a call to the country in which the number belongs. In my case, I have bought a UK number and so my family only pays a local UK call, even though it gets routed through to the Czech Republic. I don’t pay anything for the call either. Amazing!

I tested this out tonight with my Mum and gave her my SkypeIn number (it had a London prefix, out of interest), and asked her to call it. A few moments later and Skype starts ringing with an unknown caller (sadly caller ID doesn’t appear to work yet) and sure enough it is my Mum. We had a good chat and I explained exactly what I was doing. The connection was clear and stable, and we were both impressed.

For those times when I’m not online, and that does happen occasionally, they throw in a free Voicemail service. Messages appear in Skype the next time it is started, and you can leave your own personalized message to scare people away.

I’ll stress again that this is not a shameless plug, but just me being very surprised (and happy) that technology has produced something useful. The conversational experience is still not the same as a normal telephone, but that is mainly because I’m tied to the computer with a stupid little microphone. However, it provides me the ability to be anywhere in the world and, as long as I’ve got a fast internet connection, I can be reached by friends and family without them worrying about the cost.

Thumbs up for convergence.

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