The magic of Skype...



Willie waiting to Skype with his "aunt" when we were in Nevada for business.
As a kid, I remember fantasizing about being able to "see" using the phone.  In the 1950's there was talk about such technology eventually existing, being referred to as Phone-A-Vision (or something like that).  Here we are many years later and this technology not only exists but works rather well.

With the advent of cell phone service providing free long distance in the US, we weren't frequent users of SKYPE in our old lives.  

For a period of time, I had worked in Nevada, leaving my husband and family behind.  (Knowing I'd be gone for several months I brought along our precious little dog WorldWideWillie).  With the ease of calling family members on my smart phone, there was little need to use SKYPE.  Shortly after I arrived in Nevada my little sister Julie suggested we talk via SKYPE rather than on the phone.

For those of you unfamiliar with SKYPE please click here for a detailed description.

Julie and I began to use Skype on a regular basis.  Willie, a huge fan of Julie, went nuts when he'd hear her voice coming from my laptop while seeing the live video of his "aunt" who had often visited our home.  After only a few occasions, he'd anxiously wait by the computer for me to Skype Julie.  He'd bark at my laptop looking up me with pleading eyes, to make the call.

With both voice and video turned on while talking to Julie, I was able to walk around the house with my laptop showing her where I lived, the inside of the refrigerator, a new gadget I'd purchased or the bruise I got on my leg when making the bed;  lots of "sister" stuff.

Since leaving the US we've talked to family members and friends using Skype.  As soon as we moved into our villa in Laru Beya, I immediately called Julie to "show" her our new place while we giggled in awe of this amazing technology. 

It was necessary to work out a few glitches with Julie to ensure a clear connections.  Discovering that turning off the video aspect along with her calling me using the Skype app on her iPhone, I was able to answer for perfectly clear reception on either my Android phone or on my laptop using the Skype app installed in both devices.

You may wonder, if we no longer have cell service, how can we make a Skype to Skype call using our smart phones?  LaruBeya has free WiFI throughout the resort.  Our unlocked smart phones (meaning we aren't locked in to a cell contact, our phones are classified as unlocked GSM and thus enabled for SIM card use) don't currently have SIM cards but are able to pick up a WiFi signal wherever it is available: at this resort resort, at a Hotspot or any other location that offers free or a pay-for-use wireless Internet connection.

Using Skype, we have no bill to pay and no account to maintain.  All we need is a Skype name for others to easily reach us.  As long as the computer or phone's sound is turned on, an incoming Skype call rings to a familiar musical tone.

What if both the computer and the phone's sound is on and a Skype call comes in?  Whichever device we use first, to "pick up the receiver" via clicking on the old fashioned phone handle icon, is the device on which we will take the call.

Since arriving in Belize, we've discovered a vital fact about Skype that has saved us a considerable sum. We can call any US toll-free numbers at no charge.  This enables us to handle business matters back in the US calling a land line.

However, if one is calling a non-toll-free number, for instance a friend's regular cell number, as opposed to their Skype name using Skype, it is necessary to place funds into a Skype account using a credit card and to pay per minute use.  For example, while here in Belize, if we call the local cab company for a driver, we'd have to pay for the call on Skype.  Why?  They don't have a toll-free number.

We deposited $10 into my Skype account for this purpose which remains intact in the account, less $2.10 for one local call we made at the end of January when inquiring about an golf cart rental.  Were we to call family or friend's land lines or cell phones without their using Skype on their end, the call on Skype would be approximately $2.89 per minute.  As you can see, this adds up.

Back in Minnesota with a shared cell service plan, our average minutes use was a combined 800 minutes per month resulting in approximately 22 minutes per day for each of us. While outside the US, if we each used the 22 minutes per day, our monthly cost through SKYPE (or through our old Verizon account which we'd investigated) would be $2312!

You may ask, why don't we have SIM cards installed in our phones for use in Belize?  Simple.  We can use Skype for free.  Why use up minutes on a SIM card when we can use Skype at no expense?  If we had SIM cards, we'd suddenly find we're frequently loading minutes onto the card while spending huge amounts a month in cell calls.  Plus, we'd eventually end up with dozens of unused balances remaining on SIM cards from all over the world.

As for the magic...my eldest sister, Susan, living in Boulder City, Nevada has been unable to use a computer these past years due to a medical condition.  We last spoke on January 3, 2013 the day we left the US. 

In  her career she owned a successful travel agency, traveling the world experiencing many cruises, mostly on upscale cruise lines.  How fun it would be to share our experiences with her!  She educated us on cruising when we visited her in Nevada over Christmas, tips that we've treasured from the moment we boarded ship.

Without a laptop and only recently receiving a Kindle Fire, a gift from her daughter, Susan had yet to load Skype.  I wanted to speak with her!  While "Skyping" with sister Julie a few days ago, an idea hit me! 

What if I call Julie on Skype at a prearranged time.  She picks up the Skype call on her iPhone verifying that we have a clear connection, (without using video which requires more bandwidth). With her land line next to her, she dials Susan's land line while pressing the SPEAKER button. 

She sets both phones down on the desk and says to Susan, "I have a surprise for you on the phone!"  Susan cringed.  She doesn't like to talk to people she doesn't know on the phone.  Who does?  She made the assumption that whomever was on the line was a stranger. 

Speaking in a normal voice, I said, "Susan, it's me, Jessica!  I'm calling from Belize through Julie's Skype!"  

The three of us squealed with delight.  Once again, we were together!  The sound was clear, free of  background noise or static.  It was as if I had called her directly on Skype.  We chatted on endlessly in our usual way with enthusiastic interest in one another's lives and well being. 

Well, of course, I can't expect Julie to be intermediary on all future calls to Susan.  But now, she is highly motivated to take the easy steps to install Skype  on her Kindle Fire, making it possible for us to chat anytime we'd like at no cost, anywhere in the world.  I'm looking forward to that!

Another "workaround" worked for us in our world travels!

Last week, while talking on Skype with son, Richard in Henderson, Nevada, he was using his smart phone and I was using my laptop, both voice and video were clear.  His very funny pug Monty, heard my familiar voice, snorted and licked the phone.  See, dogs like Skype, too! 

Thanks, Julie!  Thanks, Skype!

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