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Tuesday, 28 October 2008 09:05

SkypeOut pricing and voice quality - Part 4 (getting tired of waiting for Skype's reply)

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SkypeOut enables you to make inexpensive voice calls from your PC to the switched telephone network, to destinations anywhere in the world. Here's another update on call quality and pricing plans.

Earlier (in SkypeOut voice quality - Part 1 and SkypeOut voice quality - Part 2 and SkypeOut voice quality - Part 3) I gave my impressions of the reliability and clarity of voice calls made from one's PC to the PSTN (public switched telephone network) using SkypeOut.

And in 1300 reasons to avoid Skype Pro in Australia I expressed my concern about the complete lack of a definition on the Skype web site concerning what they mean by the term "landline." Please review these articles before reading on.

Specifically, I discussed how calling some Australian numbers — those with "13" and "1300" prefixes that we Aussies regard as calls at local landline fixed rates (typically AU 25 to 30 cents, or thereabouts) —  can quickly, in a mere ten minutes or so,  finish up costing you more than your entire monthly SkypeOut subscription does.

But before getting stuck into pricing again, let me first continue my informal observations about SkypeOut voice quality. My conclusion is the same as last time: nearly every SkypeOut call that I've made has been of excellent clarity and reliability.

Skype are still monitoring via regular Call Quality Feedback surveys displayed after every five or ten calls upon hanging up.

SkypeOut call quality, to Australian or overseas destinations, for me remains consistently very good. And even on the odd occasion when it wasn't extremely good, I suspect that the fault could have been outside Skype's domain of control (for example, in the other party's handset or bluetooth headset).

However "your mileage may vary" as the saying goes. I'm in metropolitan Melbourne and my Internet connection is via Telstra's BigPond Cable Extreme, nominally running at up to 30 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream.

If your connection is a lot slower slower, or for other networking reasons (congestion, high latency, and so on), SkypeOut may not work as consistently well for you.

TIP: Ensure that you're using a good enough headset at your end. It doesn't have to be an expensive one. For example, purely based on personal use over several years I can recommend in terms of lightness and sound quality the Verbatim 41802 Deluxe, with volume control and microphone mute switch (under AU $30 at DSE, with mini-plugs for microphone/stereo speakers), or there's the Verbatim 41921 (about AU $40 at DSE, plugs into USB port and doesn't need or use a sound card in the PC).

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I've converted from the original Skype Pro option (no longer available, but it was just under 2 Euros per month, with a but connection fee applied to each call) to the Unlimited Country plan (just under 4 Euros per month, no connection fee, and some other benefits such as a free SkypeIn number).

I don't expecting to be making enough overseas calls any time soon that would justify upgrading to the Unlimited World plan, but have nothing at al against it in principle (it's very good value for money).

I've made numerous SkypeOut calls to "ordinary" Australian landlines (those with dialling prefixes of 02, 03, etc, but not 13 or 1300 and others) and a number of calls to the USA.

One of the international calls was used for recording a long podcast, and it went flawlessly (see IBM's Jackie Olson explains ITSO mission and services). Several other podcasts were recorded to Australian destinations.

An interesting aside is that some people use headsets which, it turns out, aren't always of good audio quality, even if more convenient than holding a handset to the ear. (I wonder of wireless or bluetooth headsets are worse than wired headsets.)

Since voice clarity is important for podcast recordings (not so critical for normal conversations), I've learned to check this before starting recordings and trying to get them to swap over to a better unit if they have that option. So there's a tip if you want to record clear podcasts.

Now let me move on to my only real gripe about SkypeOut, in the Australian context at least — and probably similar for SkypeOut users in some other countries, I'd suspect. It's essentially about the still-confusing SkypeOut pricing and terms of use.

The issue is, exactly what does Skype define a "landline" to be? What explicitly are all of the SkypeOut calls that Skype regards as "special services" of some kind that will be charged for at higher — you could even say, exorbitant — rates?

You'll see from the discussion of my third article here that on 16 September this year a Skype representative called Siim Teller commented: "Thanks for the more than thorough review of SkypeOut and our website. We'll be digging through the article looking for stuff we can improve."

As I pointed out in that article, if you examined the current table entries for SkypeOut call rates to Australian destinations, you'd find the following:

Destination · Rate/minute

EUR excl. VAT

EUR incl. VAT

Australia € 0.017 € 0.020
Australia-Canberra € 0.017 € 0.020
Australia - Mobile € 0.165 € 0.190
Australian Ex Territories € 0.550 € 0.633
Australia-Canberra € 0.017 € 0.020
Australia-Shared Cost-611300 € 0.192 € 0.221
Australia-Special Service-6113 € 0.050 € 0.058
Australia-Sydney € 0.017 € 0.020
Australia - Toll Free € 0.000 € 0.000

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I suggested that an extremely simple improvement (which would involve minimal content management effort) would be to amend the Australian section of the SkypeOut pricing table to something like the following:

Destination · Rate/minute

EUR excl. VAT

EUR incl. VAT

Australia - mainland states/territories, Tasmania € 0.017 € 0.020
Australia - Mobile € 0.165 € 0.190
Australian External Territories € 0.550 € 0.633
Australia-Shared Cost - 1300 prefix € 0.192 € 0.221
Australia-Special Service - 13 prefix € 0.050 € 0.058
Australia - Toll Free € 0.000 € 0.000

What has happened since then?

I just took a peek at the SkypeOut call rates page again, and it's a sad fact that the Australian section has not changed one iota since then.

Sad, because (as a practising webmaster and content manager in my own right) I know that the above suggested table amendments would be quite trivial to implement. It looks like change occurs at a glacial pace over there, wherever that might be.

Another necessity is for Skype to list pricing for other cases, such as Australian "premium" numbers (those with "1900" prefix, and so on), which typically cost AU 4 or 5 dollars per call.

In fact, the SkypeOut call rates page should give explicit pricing for every type of call  that can be placed in each country, together with the metering mechanism for each (rate per minute, per 30 seconds, flat rate, or whatever).

So far, doing this comprehensively and with commercial agility seems to have proved beyond Skype's capabilities.

Once again, my conclusion is that Skype provides an excellent product but — for Australia (and perhaps other countries) — inexcusably persists with inaccurate and incomplete pricing information.

I heartily invite a Skype representative to call me directly, and soon, to explain the above mysteries. I'm very easy to reach, my contact details are near the top of the home page of my web site: asiapac.com.au or notestracker.com

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Have some fun with a challenge or two that I've devised for you!
Go visit the iTWire TechWords Interactive Crosswords section.

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Tony Austin

Worked at IBM from 1970, for a quarter century, then founded Asia/Pacific Computer Services to provide IT consulting and software development services (closed company at end of 2013). These says am still involved with IT as an observer and commentator, as well as attempting to understand cosmology, quantum mechanics and whatever else will keep my mind active and fend off deterioration of my grey matter.

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