Ask LH: Will Paying For Skype Improve The Quality?

Hi Lifehacker, My parents live overseas and I’m so frustrated with Skype calls dropping out every two minutes, slap back echo, and other general annoyances. I know it’s free, but will this stop if I use their paid-for service and buy Skype credit to call a landline or mobile phone? What are the best alternatives out there to make a cheap international call? Thanks, Call Waiting

Calling picture from Shutterstock

Dear CW,

A lot of factors can interfere with the quality of a Skype call: your internet connection, the effectiveness of your home network, the same factors for the person you call, and whatever is going on with the Skype network at the time. You don’t have control over all of these factors, and since (as you note) the service is free your ability to seek recourse is limited.

Paying for Skype won’t in itself guarantee you better quality. Paid Skype credit is designed to allow you to call mobile or landline phones using the Skype client. It’s quite possible that if you do this, you’ll experience a better-quality connection when speaking to your parents — but that would be because you’ll only be making a voice call, not a video call. In that sense, you’re not making a direct comparison.

That said, My own experience with Skype-to-phone calls is that the quality varies about as much as with direct Skype-to-Skype calls. As such, paying up may not make a difference, though if your parents’ internet connection is the main issue, it might create an improvement.

Your other alternatives are to try different chat or voice services (WhatsApp, Viber, FaceTime are amongst the more prominent possibilities) or to try out cheap prepaid VOIP calling cards. The quality on the latter also varies widely, so again it’s a case of trying one and seeing if it makes a difference.

Other than that, you’re stuck with the usual advice for improving any VOIP service: make sure you’re not running other apps or downloads at the same time; try and avoid peak periods (in many neighbourhoods there’s a notable drop in service around 4pm when schoolkids return home); and make sure your home network is functional. If you’re using Wi-Fi, try connecting via Ethernet to your router to see if that makes a difference. Good luck!


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