PERSPECTIVE OF A UGANDAN IN CANADA
I knew it was time to make drastic changes when my February telephone bill landed with a thud this weekend showing a hefty four-digit dollar-figure owed for calls to family members in East Africa.
I would be damned to pay one more red cent to Ma Bell, Canadaâ€™s century-old telephone company. This monetary bleeding had to stop somehow.
No telephone need to cost an arm and a leg â€”yet a call to the in-laws in Mombasa or a call to Gulu costs a cool dollar a minute. That is highway robbery at its worst.
Okay, I may be dumb when it comes to using information technology, but I know when money is flowing out of my pocket like water from a bottomless pot. Mad as hell (because I was not going to take it anymore), my feverish cost-cutting research uncovered an internet free telephone called Skype. Briefly, Skype was created by Swedish nerd Niklas ZennstrÃ¶m and Danish computer-wiz Janus Friis about four years ago.
Their simple idea uses the internet to place and receive telephone calls at no cost. At its most basic, all one needs is a functioning computer, internet connection, a head-phone and a computer microphone. Most new laptops and desk-top computers already have in-built speakers and microphones.
For my purpose, I rushed to the mall and bought a Skype-ready VTECH wireless phone that cost me about $70 dollars (again, this was really unnecessary since I could get started on the very cheap with equipment costing less than $10). Before I tell you who is using this technology, let me explain in very basic language how this works.
It took me less than a minute to log onto the Skype website (www.skype.com) to download for FREE the software needed to run the programme. That completed, and with headphone and microphone plugged into the computer, all I needed was dial out, following the instructions. As a Skype user, I could dial for free another Skype user in another city in another part of the world, say, Valle de la Pascua in Venezuela, or Vanua Lava in Vanuatu or Vilnius in Lithuania.
Each time, the line connected just like a normal telephone does so I could talk for as long as I wanted without paying any money. I know you are thinking: â€œWhatâ€™s the catch, and how does Skype make money?â€ Say, I want to skype my former Managing Editor Mr. William Pike in Kampala (who is a smart Skype subscriber by the way), but realize he is currently not sitting in front of his Kampala computer to answer my Skype call, I can skype him on his house number or his mobile phone number. Known as Skypeout because you are calling a number outside the computer world, a minimal cost applies which is a mere fraction of the cost normally incurred using house or mobile phone. Using Skype to call a Kampala landline or mobile phone, I pay 20 cents a minute compared to more than a dollar a minute using my mobile or house phone. The beauty of Skype is that when the other party has Skype also, you donâ€™t pay a cent.
The only catch here is that you must buy your Skype Credit of about $12 dollars before making a Skypeout call, which you can do within three minutes when you have a credit card. Paying by money order or MoneyGram takes a few days before you can receive your Skype Credit. While waiting, you are free to call anyone with Skypeâ€”you just canâ€™t call a landline or mobile phone yet.
Naturally, I began thinkingâ€”who else out there is smart enough to be using Skype? I was shocked to find Skypers throughout Africa and beyond, even in small towns like Juba, in Southern Sudan.
In Uganda, registered Skypers are in Mbale, Gulu, Kabale, Arua, Jinja, Kotido, Bundibugyo, Fort Portal and God knows where else. Kampala alone has 23 Skypers named James, Nairobi has forty-four james, Dar es Salaam has 10 james, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam has 11 and London, England has several hundreds registered james. In fact, practically every country and city I checked has a registered Skyper, some (like Mr. Pike) using their real names, some nicknames. As I type this very sentence this very second, the Skypemeter at the bottom of my computer tells me that as many as 7,811,322 computers around the globe with Skype are turned on. I can talk to anyone of these millions for free so long as the person I am calling is within reach of his or her computer and willing to answer my call. Talk about the global village, this is.
I spent the weekend exploring my Skype world. I called out a long-time friend in Houston, Texas (in my enthusiasm, I forgot that it was still night time in Texas), and another in Kampala, who incidentally answered the Skype call in Nairobi where he was staying for a couple of days. Both calls, each lasting more than half-an-hour, needless to repeat, were absolutely free. Then I called (Skypeout) a family member in Mombasa on her mobile number. The call lasting about 10 minutes was a minuscule $3 dollars on my Skype Credit compared to more than $10 for such a call using my house phone. There are some obvious drawbacks to Skype. Foremost, Skype mobile phones are too expensive at the moment, which means many Skypers must sit in front of their computers to make free calls.
My wireless phone allows me to make a call from anywhere in my house, but not outside the house. Secondly, though very unlikely, you are potentially open to millions of calls from worldwide Skypers because your contact is out there in cyberspace. As I found out last night while exploring the Skype website, Skype attracts people with different interests and tastes. I stumbled on a live porno conversationâ€”the moderator was based in Ankara, Turkey with live voices streaming in from around the worldâ€”so I beat a hasty retreat.
However, I was not fast enough because a few minutes later, one of the fellows in the chat room dialled me to send his photo.
Notwithstanding his soft velvety voice emanating from somewhere in India, I hung up on him. Creep! In any event, once you download Skypeâ€™s free software, they tell you to tell your friends. Well, I have and now you know. Skype me soon. Goodbye expensive phone calls. Never again.