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!

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    Get your rents to do a speed and ping test, google speed test. 10MBps would be perfect but if they can get a constant 3+ with low 20s ping then u can count there connection out of the picture. Skype uses a pripriotory protocol which means we have no idea how it works and they could have in there a form of quality of service that does make paid customers get better quality. Whats App and Viber are the best around because they use open protocols that ISPs can works with and allow for better speeds through bandwidth optimisation which the ISP most likely does automatically.

    Google Hangouts is the other obvious Video Chat choice that could be worth a try.
    Otherwise, International Calling Cards or VoIP are worth investigating.

    If you just try to change software but keep the same network and hardware, most of those problems will follow you. Addressing the issues mentioned:

    -Calls dropping out is mostly due to internet/wifi quality at either end. Standard fixes are plugging into ethernet (if possible), changing to a less congested wifi channel, running speedtest, and forcing your housemate to stop torrenting. If you're using mobile broadband, there will be some variability no matter what.
    -The fastest way to reduce echo is to use headsets, especially if skype's built-in echo cancellation isn't doing the trick. I'd also try turning on whatever 'reduce ambient noise' settings your OS has.

    @Redex. 20 "second" pings? 3Mbps bandwidth for Skype audio calls not good enough? ISP works with open protocols to optimise your traffic? Have you actually read what you wrote? If you don't have anything accurate or useful to suggest you may as well tell us a joke instead.

    Done a LOT of voip-calling internationally myself, and one of the things you can do with Skype is buy yourself a premium status.

    Just be aware that in my experience this doesn't seem to do a damn thing when talking Skype-to-Skype. It just gives you some extra bells and whistles to play with.

    The suggestions everyone else has made about network troubleshooting is great, but Skype's own network is a huge variable and when I say variable, I mean it varies. Wildly.

    I've found that Skype has deteriorated ever since they were bought by Microsoft. On a Skype vs FaceTime test, FaceTime is much more clear, it's actually pretty good.

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