PC to Phone Calls: A Primer
A PC to phone call allows you to use your computer as a phone and make calls from your PC to a phone. It is usually an application with most Internet phone service providers. PC to phone calls are much cheaper than calls from phone to phone. Sometimes, a call from a PC is free!
A PC to phone call uses a technology known as "VoIP." VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol; it's a technology that allows you to use the Internet to make phone calls. Usually, VoIP is a replacement for traditional telephone service, but, because VoIP works based on computers (think of Internet Protocol as the language that computers use to talk to one another on Internet), you can use a PC to make calls. You can get VoIP for both business and residential phone plans.
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Softphone PC to Phone Calls
The providers above each offer PC to phone calls as an add-on to their traditional phone service with a product called a softphone.
A softphone is a piece of software that you install on your computer that allows you to convert sound from a microphone into a VoIP call. Most softphones do not cost anything at all; they're offered for free from a VoIP provider.
Some softphones have additional features that cost extra; these softphones cost a little extra.
Free PC to Phone Calls
Most PC to Phone calls are not free. In order to place a call to the public telephone network, the call from your PC has to pass through at least one public network. To access that network, you have to pay a small fee.
Usually, most VoIP providers charge you a subscription fee or a price per minute for calls to the public network. The VoIP providers listed above all charge a subscription fee; providers like Skype or Rebtel offer PC to phone calls at a per minute rate.
Some PC to phone calls are free; usually, these free PC to phone calls are made within the VoIP provider's network (that is, if the VoIP provider provides service to the person being called and the person placing the call).
Asterisk: PC to Phone Calls
Businesses can also use a PC for phone calls in a completely different way by using a program called Asterisk. Asterisk is a free software that allows people to transform normal PCs into communications servers. This allows you to use SIP trunking to supply your business with VoIP service.
Asterisk allows you to completely customize your phone system but it does take a little bit of technical expertise to set up and administer. Also, Asterisk is just a program; it doesn't actually supply VoIP service.
PC to phone calls are a great way to set up a mobile work force (since users can install a softphone on a laptop or home desktop) or set up a cheap phone system (since you can just set the phone up on your computer).
Obviously, if your computer is turned off, PC to phone calls will not work - callers will be sent directly to your voicemail.