Tag Archives | skype

Expat Tech: Skype Now Supports Multi-Tasking

We previously reported at the end of May on Skype adding support for 3G calling to their iPhone app and are now happy to report that as of yesterday, Skype now also supports multi-tasking on Apple’s new iOS 4 for the iPhone 4 and 3GS.

What this means is that you can now run Skype in the background on your iPhone, and receive calls as well as place them.  Before iOS 4, the only way to receive calls would have been to have the Skype application running in the foreground which was not very practical.  Now, just run Skype in the background and people in the States can ring your Argentine cell phone just by placing a local call. And all you need is a cheap 3G connection (Movistar charges $9 pesos for 2GB to use over 2 days).

You’ll still need to pay for a SkypeIn number if you want people on non-Skype phone lines to reach you, but luckily this service is only $18 for three months or $60 for a year. Plus, they have local numbers available in 25 different countries.

In other good news, Skype also dropped plans to charge extra for 3G calling.  Both Wifi and 3G calls are free to Skype numbers, though you’ll need Skype credit to make outbound calls to non-Skype numbers, but that is relatively inexpensive as well.

Now all we need is the jailbreak for iOS 4 on the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4, which is supposed to be coming in the next few days! (I installed iOS 4.0 on my iPhone 3G and it slowed to a crawl.  I had to downgrade to 3.1.3 to make my phone usable again, so I’d advise against doing that.)

So, with a jailbroken and unlocked iPhone 3GS, iOS 4.0.1, Movistar 3G service and Skype, I should have a cheap calling solution anywhere in Buenos Aires.

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Expat Tech: Skype for iPhone Now Supports 3G Calls

Skype 2.0 for the iPhone was just released and it now includes the ability to make calls over 3G networks. Previously, you could only make calls over WiFi.

I immediately put it to the test on my jail-broken and unlocked iPhone 3G using Movistar’s pre-paid 3G network. Guess what? It works great and the call clarity was perfect.  Now, I’ll be able to make calls to the US while I’m out in Buenos Aires without having to find a WiFi access point first.

Of course, you’ll need to have Skype Credit to make outbound calls to non-Skype numbers, but the costs are pretty low – from $0.021 per minute to $6.99/month for unlimited calling.

The only bad news? Skype over 3G is free until August 2010, but after that date they plan to start charging a “small monthly fee.”  Calls over WiFi will not have this charge, but you lose the flexibility of using it anywhere. Questions about a conspiracy with having to pay AT&T are popping up all over the Internet.

BONUS: As of late April 2010, you can now set your Skype Caller ID to be the same as your Google Voice number. That way people you call will see your Google Voice number rather than a random string of numbers that Skype usually displays.  To set this, login to your Skype account and click on Caller ID.

I’ll be putting together a future post on the complete phone setup that I have in Buenos Aires, which includes a combination of Google Voice, MagicJack, Vonage and Skype. Stay tuned…

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Expat Tech: Google Voice Coming Soon

Google VoiceMore interesting news from Google – they have just announced Google Voice, a new service that will give you a new US phone number from Google with a slew of services to go along with it.  The basic premise of Google Voice is that you will have one number for all your phones, for life.  When this number is called, it can ring all of the phones that you have (home, work, cell) and also handle voice mail.  As these numbers change, your Google Voice number will remain the same.

Now, most expats are already using voice-over-ip (VOIP) services like Vonage or Skype, so why would you need this service?  While it’s true that this is not a VOIP service (yet) and you will still need an existing phone to place and receive calls, Google is offering a tremendous number of services that most other VOIP don’t provide – and they’re doing it for free.  Some of these services include:

  • Call US numbers for free and cheap international calling (might be cheaper than using another VOIP service)
  • Voicemail transcripts – receive your voicemail as email or text messages automatically converted from voice to text (Vonage charges $.25 per message for this)
  • Call screening – announce and screen callers
  • Listen in – listen before taking a call
  • Block calls
  • Taking calls – answer on any of your phones (No word on whether it will support international numbers or what the cost would be.)
  • Phone routing – phones ring based on who calls
  • Forwarding phones – add phones and decide which ring
  • Listen to voicemail – check online or from your phone
  • Notifications – receive voicemails via email or SMS
  • Personalize greetings – vary greetings by caller
  • Conference calling
  • Call record – record calls and store them online
  • Call switch – switch phones during a call
  • SMS – send, receive, and store SMS
  • And more… (Visit the Google Voice features page for the rest and to view short videos on these services)

The free SMS services are especially interesting since many expats are unable to send and receive US-based text messages, so this would be an easy way to enable that.  And, SMS text messages are becoming more and more critical as many US-based services use them as an additional measure of security for authenticating accounts (PayPal, Craigslist, etc.) or for approving bank transactions (I had this at Bank of America but had to turn it off when I moved to Argentina).

The downsides to Google Voice?

  • You will need to pick a new number from Google as there is not currently any way to transfer your existing number to them. This means changing your old number everywhere.
  • You still need a US based number for the call forwarding to work. At this time, the service is US only.  Though you could sign up just to get a free number with voicemail, SMS, etc. and not have the forwarding or calling features.
  • The Google Voice service is not yet available but will be rolling out over the next few weeks.  You can sign up to be notified when it launches.
  • There is no fax support, so it may not replace all of your numbers yet.

All things considered, it looks like an amazing service and I’ve already signed up for the wait list.  You can read more abotu Google Voice at:

–  Google Voice: A push to rewire your phone service [C|Net]
GrandCentral To (Finally) Launch As Google Voice. It’s Very, Very Good. [TechCrunch]

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Setting Up Telephone and Cell Phone Service

Setting up phone service when you moved out of the country used to be a lot more complex. With the Internet and voice-over-ip services, everything is pretty simple.

Telephone: Vonage
I’ve had a Vonage phone number in the NYC (212) area code for almost four years now and it’s moved wherever I’ve gone. I’m keeping this number in Buenos Aires so that friends and family can contact me by dialing a US number, and I can make unlimited calls to the US, Canada and Puerto Rico. I signed up for a year of service in advance for $239.99 (about $20 per month). With Vonage, I can also add unlimited calling to a number of other countries including Argentina for $6/month. Unfortunately, this does not apply to cell phone numbers, which mostly operate on the calling party pays system. Calls to cell phones cost $.21/minute, so I won’t be forwarding my missed Vonage calls to my cell phone as I did in the US.

I’ve also read that a number of people have used Skype, so you may want to check that out. I’ve been a long time Vonage subscriber and have been happy with the service. If you decide to sign up for service, contact me for a referral and we’ll both get up to 2 months of free service.

Cell Phone: T-Mobile
I have read that electronics can be expensive and outdated in Argentina and the best thing to do is to bring your US cell phone with you (provided it is quad-band). Then, buy a pre-paid local SIM card to use in your existing phone. Since I have a Blackberry Pearl and have been pretty happy with it, that’s what I’m doing. The first thing I needed to do was call T-Mobile and get the unlock code for my phone. The unlock code is needed to allow your phone to work on a different network than the one where you purchased your phone.  They were surprisingly helpful and told me that I would have the unlock code and instructions in an email within 24 hours. Sure enough, by the next morning I had the code and instructions for unlocking my phone.

Luckily, my T-mobile phone was out of contract, so there were no termination fees for me to pay.  I was very attached to my (917) number though and wanted to keep it.  I had three options:

  1. Transfer it over to Vonage and tie it into my exisitng account as a virtual phone number for $4.99 per month
  2. Transfer it over to Vonage as a new account or a second line on my existing account for $14.99 – $24.99 per month
  3. Switch it with T-Mobile from a monthly account to a pre-paid account and only pay for what I used

I decided that Option 3 worked best for me. I could keep my number and also have a SIM card and phone to use when I take trips back to the US, plus there is no monthly fee to pay. I can also set my voicemail message to let people know what my Vonage number is if they want to reach me. Unfortunately, you cannot set up your pre-paid numbers to forward to your Vonage phone number as you can with a regular cell phone plan.

For some more reading, Wikipedia has a good article on telephone numbers in Argentina.

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