The days of several generations of a family all living on the same estate are long gone. Today, people move around a lot – to seek education, find work, or just because they’ve always wanted to see what life is like in other parts of the world. Staying in touch with your friends and family can be tricky if they’re spread across several time zones. Fortunately, technology offers several solutions.
The Old-School Calling Card
International Calling Cards are cards that allow you to make calls to foreign countries. You buy the card in advance, and top it up with some credit. You then dial an access number, enter the PIN on the card, and then dial your destination number. These cards offer substantial savings over using a normal phone package for long-distance calls (although they aren’t always as cheap as using an IP telephony service). They are a good budgeting tool, however.
BlackBerry Messenger is an Internet based instant messaging tool that allows users of BlackBerry devices to send messages containing text, emoticons, and images. BBM Verson 7 added voice calling to the list of features. Most providers require that users of the service purchase a BlackBerry data plan, however once you have purchased a plan you can usually send messages even if you have only a WiFi connection. BlackBerry Messenger is popular because of its ease of use and the groups feature that makes it easy to share information with several people at once.
BlackBerry Messenger had some high-profile stability issues and server outages in 2011, however since then the service has been generally quite reliable.
Online Chat and Instant Messaging
If most of your friends and family do not have BlackBerries, then you may find other online chat and IM services useful. The most well-known services are AOL’s Instant Messager, and MSN Messenger, both of which are free. However, there are other free services, such as Jabber, that offer sophisticated group management features, and could be perfect for staying in touch with a large group of friends.
There are several universal clients available that allow you to sign in to multiple platforms at once, so you don’t have to worry about persuading all of your friends to sign up for the same service.
VoIP and Video Chat
The wonders of VoIP make it easy (and cheap) to talk to people anywhere in the world. There are some IP telephony providers, such as Skype, that offer free calls to other users of the service. It is possible to buy credit for VoIP services and use them to call normal telephone numbers. VoIP calling is usually significantly cheaper than using a traditional telephone service, and can be cheaper than calling cards too.
One downside to VoIP software is that it requires an internet connection to work, and may also require the purchase of extra hardware, such as a headset or microphone. However, if you already have this equipment (most laptops and netbooks now come with built-in cameras and microphones), then it is a great way to call long-distance.
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