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Tech special: Apps that help you stay connected with your loved ones

Thanks to the advancement in technology, it has become easier to keep in touch with relatives and friends scattered across the globe

There used to be a time when calling relatives abroad meant booking a call, waiting for hours for it to get connected and then after exactly three minutes being told that the time is up. It always left us wanting for more. Then came a time when we got international dialing on our landlines.

You simply picked up the phone, dialed the country code and the number and voila! You could chat for hours—that is only you could afford the super expensive minutes. This service got extended to our cellular phones. Now, you could not only talk to anyone in the world, you could talk from anywhere, the cost though was still steep. Technology then brought us Email, Instant Messaging, PC to PC Calling and even Video calling—some free and some paid for.

The free ones, though needed an Internet connection, thus restricting you to a place and time. But, all this is changing.There are app makers who realise the need of being able to make a low cost International call, where Internet may not be available, or the connectivity sporadic.

Yes, you could always call up the STD booth operator, and he could connect you via a conference call but then he would be listening in to most of your calls.

This week we look at some options that require the Internet and some without the Internet to make calls on the cheap:

REBTEL: (iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry)
Rebtel is an App that can work both as a VoIP (Voice over IP), dependent on your Internet network, and as an independent caller. It charges you bare basic rates to connect to international numbers. Using your local connection, you can make international calls at a local rate. And you do not even need an Internet connection. You simply download the app, sign up for an account and save all your international contacts in it. To make the call, all you have to do is click on the contact and Rebtel sends you a number to dial. You simply have to call that local number and then hang up. Rebtel then calls you back on your number and connects you to your international contact. Your telephone operator charges you for a local call and Rebtel charges you their super low per-minute based fares. Additionally, if you are making the call through your Wi-Fi connection but want to head out during the call, you can seamlessly switch to the local call connection by using the “Keep Talking” feature.

If the person on the other end has the Rebtel App, then you can directly connect to the person without having to hang up the initial call or wait for that call back. It even features a collect call feature, wherein friends and relatives abroad can call you and this money is charged to your account. They dial out the call your local Rebtel number, which in turn connects to your cell number without charging them.  The App allows you to make your first call for free and thereon you have to purchase in-app credits in blocks of R300 to make your international calls. You can even set call reminders to ensure that you do not miss those important birthdays and anniversaries.

Skype: (iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows, PC, Mac, Linux])
This seems to be the favourite app for business users. You need the Internet to make calls via Skype, but with Fast 3G in most of our cities, and Skype being available on all platforms—from your Desktop Computer to your Tablet and even on your phone—it has become a feasible option. You can make Skype to Skype calls for free, in case both you and the receiver have Internet access. Also, you can make Skype Out calls to the receiver who do not have access to the Internet connection.

You need to just login to your Skype account, buy Skype minutes and start making your calls (you need to have Internet access). Calls to the United States cost you as little as 97 paise/minute on a pay-as-you-go option. There are various other options available to lower the cost. When the receiver gets the call it shows your local number. So, in case they miss the call they can call you back. Skype also offers Unlimited World Calling and Unlimited US calling packages, allowing you to
talk endlessly. The downside is you need Internet connection, but if you look at it, there is always some place you can get high speed Internet even if your 3G is not working properly.

RINGO: (iOS, Android, Windows)
This latest baby in the cheap international call market is different from the existing Apps. It is not a VoIP and as such does not require an Internet connection. Once you download the App you need to create an account. Then Ringo accesses your phone book and imports all the international contacts with the flag of the country the number belongs to. Now, all you have to do is it go to the App and select the number or dial the cellphone or landline number you want to call. Once you click on the number, a request is sent to the Ringo network and you almost immediately get a call back connecting you to the desired number. You will need to be connected to the Internet to initiate your call via Ringo.

It uses the existing widespread, wired telephone network within the country as well across the international borders. And this makes  the quality of the call very stable and clear, without disruptions. The call charge is cheaper than a basic Skype call and than that of our cell phone providers. There are no monthly fees or registration fees. Once you download the free App, you can test it by making your first call for free. After that you can buy Ringo credits of R60 to make the calls. There are no hidden costs, as the cost per minute is displayed on the screen. The charges for making a call to the US is as low as R1.08/minute and to the UK is just Rs 1.80/minute.

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