Long Distance Is Cheap: Are You Paying Too Much?

longdistanceischeapareyoupayingtoomuch.jpgWith technology developing at breakneck speeds, the price of long distance has plummeted rapidly in the past ten years. Not only has the cost of long distance over wired phone lines dropped dramatically, but it is even less when using internet technologies like Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP). However, this doesn’t stop your home phone or cell phone service providers from trying to gouge you with rates as high as 35 cents per minute for long distance within Canada and the USA.

Nowadays, many home phone providers have dropped their rates to be more competitive and a common rate to pay would be 5 cents per minute. This seems like an amazing improvement when you consider the older rates, but the fact of the matter is you can easily achieve rates as low as 1 cent per minute using calling cards or FREE or almost free using VoIP related technologies and services! Make sure you read the entire post so you get to see all of the best and free options!


Traditional Calling Cards

Almost everyone has heard of and used a calling card at some point in their life but many of those people quickly reject them for their everyday calling needs because they are an extra hassle that they don’t want to be bothered with. This is understandable, but it may be time you gave calling cards another chance because modern cards have many features that make them easier to use and the rates to use them are lower now than they have ever been. They also have the advantage of being useable anywhere including your home phone, cell phone, other people’s phones, pay phones, and hotel phones!

There are many factors to consider w

hen purchasing a calling card including local access numbers, fees, expiry dates, features, etc. Personally, I tend to go for the cards that are the most straightforward in that they have no additional fees of any kind and that have long expiry dates so there are no surprises. I also have a much smaller field of calling cards to choose from because I live in a smaller city where there often isn’t a local access number available. Therefore, I either need to pick one of the few cards that have a local number for my area or choose one that has a toll free number to dial. Most cards have an additional fee for toll free numbers that make it much more expensive to use, so that eliminates most of them for me right away. If you live in a major metropolis area, then you can spend more time going through the various options a

nd likely find a card that costs less than 1 cent per minute to use.

You can purchase calling cards from many physical stores in your area, but I find shopping for them online gives you a wider selection, lower rates, and the convenience of having the PIN number emailed to you immediately after you make your purchase. I find that both the Cici calling card (2.5 cents per minute) and the First Choice calling card (1.5 cents per minute) are excellent cards that have no fees of any kind and will work anywhere in Canada, even in smaller remote areas (Cici only).

Below are a few good places you can 

shop for calling cards that work well in Canada. But don't let their names fool you! All of them sell calling cards that can be used everywhere in Canada; not just in Toronto or Ontario.

Calling Services

Calling services are much like calling cards; except for you sign up for an ongoing account online and in doing so have access to additional conveniences. You can take advantage of features like auto top up, pin

-less dialling, stored contacts, and more.

Traditional VoIP

Traditional VoIP works by hooking an Analog Telephone Adapter (ATA) up to your internet connection using one port and plugging in a standard phone using a second port and then signing up with VoIP service provider and programming your ATA to work with that provider. VoIP providers, like voip.ms, offer rates as low as 0.5 cents per minute for Canadian long distance calls. Other providers may offer unlimited long distance for free, a one time fee, or an annual fee.

Unfortunately, I don’t have much experience with traditional VoIP service because I’ve always used a pay service like Skype to make things easier and more convenient. If you want to figure out all the complexities of traditional VoIP you can read through this complicated but comprehensive thread on the subject at RedFlagDeals, which should get you pointed in the right direction.

VoIP Providers And Services

Many companies quickly realized that traditional VoIP is a touch too complicated for regular non-technical folk; so many services have sprung up that have VoIP as their backbone but eliminate many of its complexities. Rogers home phone service, which is nearly as expensive as a standard hard wired telephone, even uses VoIP under the hood. Here is a quick overview of some of the best and most notable service providers:

1) Vonage

Founded in 2001, Vonage was one of the first companies to offer true VoIP phone service to everyday consumers like you and I. The service they offer is one of the most expensive with their cheaper plans even having monthly usage caps. That said, Vonage is a good choice for people who want a very reliable service to replace their existing home phone while still saving money overall on frequent long distance calls.

2) Skype

Founded in 2003, Skype revolutionized the way people communicate on the Internet by allowing any two Skype users to connect with each other for free using their internet connected computers. Since then they have gone through several upgrades and changes that now make it possible to call regular landline and cellular telephones for extremely reasonable prices. You can also break free from your computer while using Skype with one of the following methods:

  • Skype software that can be installed on most modern internet connected smart phones to make cheap long distance calls from anywhere.
  • A Skype adapter plugged into your computer or always on home theatre PC that hooks up to a normal home telephone.
  • One of several Skype phones that can connect to Skype using any available wireless internet connection.

In my household we use a standard cordless phone system hooked up through our Skype adapter to our always on home theatre PC to make all of our outgoing regular and long distance calls while at home. We compliment this with a pair of cell phones for important incoming calls, when we are away from home, and for emergencies. We subscribe to the $2.99/month Unlimited US & Canada plan which allows us to significantly reduce our cell phone minute usage and long distance costs.

3) Google Voice

Google Voice, which started as GrandCentral back in 2005, was an innovative service that allowed you to have one phone number that would connect all of your other phones (home, cell, work, etc) together. You would give out the one number to people and then, based on rules you could set up online, one or all of your phones would ring when the number was dialled. You could also set up rules based on who was calling, send people directly to voice mail, or even pretend that the phone line was disconnected if it was someone you really didn’t like calling. In additional you were able to place free long distance calls anywhere in North America using any one of your phones registered with the service.

Since Google acquired GrandCentral in July of 2007, it has gone through some changes and is even better than it was today. It took Google several years to actually upgrade GrandCentral into Google Voice and they are still further developing it and attempting to roll it out internationally. Unfortunately, Google Voice isn’t fully available to Canadians yet. I was lucky enough to sign up for GrandCentral back before the Google acquisition so I’ve had an account ever since then along with a New York telephone number. I don’t give that number out to anyone for obvious reasons, but I have used GrandCentral and Google Voice to make many Canadian long distance calls on my cell phone. I eventually stopped using it due to noticeable delays in the conversation that caused me to talk over other people all the time. Call quality was good but it just couldn’t compare to the crystal clear call quality without delays offered by Skype. I will probably try using it again soon to see if they’ve significantly improved the quality.

When GrandCentral first launched, and initially with Google Voice as well, it was primarily a call back service for outgoing calls. You would select a contact to dial using the online application or manually enter a phone number to dial (this was actually a Google Voice enhancement) and then your phone would ring first and you would be connected to the person you were calling after you answered the incoming call. This was great for people with unlimited incoming minutes on their cell phones but it had its limitations especially when you were out of your local calling area because that often brings long distance charges for incoming calls. You also needed internet access to initiate the call, which was a major drawback for cell phone usage; although there is a mobile friendly site you can use to place calls.

Fortunately, they have recently upgraded the service in several ways. Now, with the proper Android or Blackberry application, you can initiate calls directly without being called first. They have also just integrated Google Voice with Gmail for those in Canada and the United States so you can make outbound calls directly using your computer, which wasn’t possible before. They have been promising full access to Google Voice for Canadians for some time now, so I expect it will launch either in the remainder of this year or sometime next year. Definitely stay tuned for that announcement!

VoIP All In One Hardware Devices

A relatively new development in the VoIP landscape is all in one VoIP devices. With these devices you pay a reasonable up front price for the device, which you plug into your computer and/or router, and then you plug your phone into the device and it installs itself automatically, assigns you a phone number, and then you can place and receive unlimited local or long distance calls using a standard telephone. There are two main options right now that offer service to Canada: magicJack and Nettalk. I haven’t had the opportunity to try either of these devices yet and I can’t vouch for their long term quality or viability as businesses, but I have read many first hand reports that they do work as advertised and the call quality is quite good. There is the occasional hiccup, but nothing to speak of.

1) magicJack

magicJack is a privately held company and they were the pioneer for these types of devices. The magicJack device itself costs 39.95USD + 6.95USD shipping and handling for Canadians and comes with the first year of service included. Every year after that you will be billed 19.95USD to keep your service going. The terms of service are subject to change but they have remained the same for the past couple of years. They also offer a 30-day risk free trial of the service, but if you decide to cancel it before the 30 days is up, then you will have to pay for the return shipping costs to send the magicJack device back to them.

2) NetTalk

NetTalk is a publicly traded company and when their service first launched it was a lifetime service that offered a US phone number and free long distance to the Canada and the USA. Since then they realized this business model was not sustainable so they introduced a new and slightly improved device along with an annual fee. Much like magicJack there is an upfront cost for the device, this time 69.95, which includes a year of free service and then a recurring annual fee of $29.95.

The NetTalk device has a few small advantages over magicJack. It can be hooked up to a router as well as a computer so that you don’t have to keep your PC running 24/7 just for this device. Secondly, they have live tech support that you can speak to if you have problems with your device, whereas magicJack does not. The only issue for Canadians is that they do not currently offer Canadian phone numbers and they do not ship their devices to Canada. The device itself will work just fine in Canada, but you will need to pick one up while you are down in the states or ship it to the border if you want one.

For more ways to save money on long distance and all your other communication costs, check out our Services section.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The content here reflects the author's opinion alone, and is not endorsed or sponsored by a bank, credit card issuer, rewards program or other entity.

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SavingMentor's picture


I've recently purchased a magicJack and have it hooked up and running! I am still evaluating it and will probably eventually write a review. So far, so good.

November 02, 2010 @ 11:17 am

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