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A local number worldwide: VOIP does the trick.

3022339998_921a370972One of the things I feared a bit before leaving was losing communication with clients. Back in Belgium, the simplest way to communicate was by phone, followed by email and in person. The last option wasn’t possible anymore, the second remained, and the first, well…..that would become an very expensive solution. At least that was what I thought at first…

Then I did some research. I knew Skype was already offering worldwide numbers, but they don’t cover all country codes.  Belgium wasn’t one of those covered, so I continued the search and stumbled on a series of VOIP providers offering a local number at almost no charge. I found a local number as low as €9, and in the US, many are even free. After checking things thoroughly, I finally opted for Nomado.eu, offering us everything in one package. A local number is available for €23.90/year, but more interesting still are their package deals.

The “Bryssel” package costs €41.31/year and gives you a Belgian number free, and free calls to local lines for the whole of Europe. For €79 /year, you can have the “Free World” package which includes a Belgian number and calls to local lines and some mobile phones worldwide – a perfect fit for us. On top of that, their rates are amazingly good. I have to admit that while they have good terms for our (Belgian) needs, for a fixed number in another country, you might be better off looking elsewhere. For us, it was the best deal and a good service. I did also find other practically free possibilities, but at the moment I want to to be sure of having a reliable service. After all, I must have a good connection to my clients; so I don’t want the potential hassle that comes with free stuff.

So now I have a number, how do I call?  Well, here’s the nice thing; your number gets linked to several ‘programs’/’phones’, so there’s no need to rely on a single device. I’m running my number on my mac, and on my iPhone. When I am not able to pick up the phone via these apps, it forwards the call to my mobile SIM card ( this is an extra paid-for feature, but the rest is included in the fixed yearly price.)

So you see, when someone calls my number and I take the call on my computer, or my iPhone via an app, the call is free – no overseas connection costs – nothing . If I call a fixed number from my computer or my iPhone, the call is also free. The only time I pay, is when calling from my number to a mobile phone, or when I’m not able to pick up the phone, and it gets redirected to my local mobile phone. I then pay for a local connection at the local rate. (Redirection is optional; I can also set this to “answering machine”, which then records the message and drops it in my email box for free.)

This is a huge money- saver, and definitely one of the big advantages of Nomado, thanks to their package deals. But most of all, my clients don’t need to install software. There is no need for both parties to be at  a computer at the same time. It totally rocks, and the cost is minimal. (Skype does offer a similar service, but it is limited to certain country codes and their rates are considerably higher.)

So what software do you need?

For the computer, I opted for the tiny mac app ‘Telephone‘, which IMHO is non-intrusive, resides in your dock and, when on your desktop, doesn’t take much space, something which I personally love. It works together with your Mac Address Book, which makes it even easier to work with.

Another one for mac (and PC), and the most well known, is X-lite. The free version is somewhat limited, and lacks the integration with your address book (You might need the paying version if you opt for this one). It’s quality rocks.

On the Nomado support page, you have some more options. On the iPhone, you’ll need a hacked phone for this one running on 3G… Apple doesn’t accept such VOIP apps yet. Although I think they will soon. Since the release of the iPad, VOIP over 3G has been supported, so check the iStore for some apps – they will be coming soon. Siphon and SIAX do the job well. They can be downloaded through Cydia, and they’re free. Check the installation “How To’s” with your provider – these programs need to be running to be able to pick up the phone. You’ll also need to be connected to the internet through WIFI or 3G. If the program is not running or no there is no WIFI, the person on the other end of the line will get your answering machine or be transferred to the (paying) local (mobile) number of your choice!

If Nomado isn’t the right deal for you, there are definitely more providers of VOIP-numbers. We ourselves are pretty happy with this solution, and will definitely be using it in conjunction with Skype. But what we especially like is the fact that neither us nor our clients/family/friends need to be at a computer to be able to talk to each other. The rates are incredibly cheap, in fact it is even cheaper to use this setup in Belgium than to use the national phone company, Belgacom. Nomado’s rates are cheaper across the board, even for landline to landline, and landline to mobile. (So this might be of interest to Belgians readers who would like to swap their landline for a cheaper service.)

Disclaimer: Yes, we are sponsored by Nomado. I had already decided to opt for this provider when I contacted them to ask if they were willing to sponsor us. If they hadn’t, we certainly would have paid for the service. (Don’t tell them ;) )

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