By Marcel and Nick | Edited by Steve N Updated 19 Dec 2014
It's possible to call anywhere in the world free. If you've a steady broadband connection, free internet phone calls can slash the cost of calling abroad - and you can even save if you're out and about on 3G or 4G.
Calling via the web ISN'T always cheapest. While it's free for calling people who use the same free web service, if you want to call someone directly, other ways usually beat it. Use the MSE UK or International CallChecker instead.
How to make free internet calls
If you and the person you're calling are both online, you can make free internet calls (barring any web access costs), no matter where in the world you both are.
There are different ways to make free calls via the web. Each requires an internet connection, though depending on the service you can make calls either via a computer, your mobile or even using your landline.
The best route for you depends on which service your family and friends use, because using the same as them will get you free calls. Here are the key options (we then list the top apps and services below ):
- Smartphone-to-smartphone. If you've got a smartphone with web access, free apps will get you free calls as long as your friend's using the same service.
- Computer-to-computer (and tablets). If you've got a computer or tablet you can likewise use your internet connection to make free calls so long as your friend's using the same service.
- Tablet/computer-to-phone (and vice versa). You can use a computer to call a phone for free so long as it's a smartphone using the same service. It works the other way too. But if you're calling a landline or a mobile which isn't a smartphone from your computer it WON'T be free (unless it's a toll-free number, eg, 0800) - you may be better off using an override provider instead.
How much does it cost to call a landline via the internet?
Someone using Skype on a smartphone in the UK to call someone using Skype on a smartphone in the US can call for free. However for web-to-phone calls, you'll pay.
For example, use Skype on an iPhone in the UK to call a US landline and it would cost 1.7p/min. A Vonage package costs Ј11/month for unlimited calls to landlines and mobiles in 34 countries - including Australia, the US and Canada - and unlimited calls to landlines only in 68 countries.
The MSE UK and International CallCheckers show that the cheapest override provider - depending on who your home phone provider is and where you're calling - doesn't charge by the minute but has a 5p connection-fee per call. So if you're calling someone from your landline or mobile who doesn't use VoIP, this can be the cheapest route.
Can I make free internet calls via a landline?
Yes, you can use your landline to make calls over thje internet - and it can often be cheaper. You'll need a special Ј20+ adapter that plugs into your home phone and broadband, which re-routes the calls. If you sign up with some services, on a monthly package, you can get the adapter included in the costs.
Can I receive calls over the internet from a landline?
Many providers allocate you a number on which you can receive calls. Some even provide an adapter that bypasses the computer altogether and plugs into your normal phone handset.
How free web calls work
Free calls over the internet are made using what's geekily known as "VoIP", which is short for "Voice over Internet Protocol".
You may not have heard of it, but you've probably used internet telephony without even realising it. It's increasingly used as the background technology for normal calls too.
exactly does VoIP work?
Here comes the science bit. With traditional phone calls, there's a constantly open pipeline with information streaming both ways, like this:
Make a free internet call using VoIP and your voice is split into tiny packets of data, using high-speed technology and computer processing power.
These are then bulleted along the line and decompressed at the other end. Other people's conversations are also bulleted along the line at the same time, so one line carries much more information, making it cheaper to operate.
As well as cutting costs while at home in the UK, using VoIP cuts costs if you're travelling abroad and need to call home. DON'T use data while abroad though, as this will cost BIG. If you've free or cheap web access, you can call at no or low cost (depending on provider), via a PC, your mobile or a tablet. This saves massively on hotel phone charges, and often beats overseas phone cards.
There are a few drawbacks to VoIP though, so it's probably not wise to ditch your landline or mobile completely.
VoIP calls require an internet connection. If your power goes or your broadband breaks, you won't be able to call.
Call quality depends on your broadband connection, and that of the person you're calling. Tempremental broadband could mean poor call quality.
Not all VoIP providers let you call emergency numbers - you would have to dial 999 from your mobile or a landline.
Top apps & services to make free calls
When using VoIP for free calls, providers are pretty similar, and the best one for you is really a personal preference. The crucial thing is to ensure you both have the same app. Also factor in your handset type and if you want to make video calls.
Using mobile data (3G or 4G) to make VoIP calls? Be warned, this can eat heavily into your mobile data allowance. Use free wi-fi wherever possible.
All the ones we've detailed below are free to download. To make completely free calls, you and the person you're calling needs to use the same provider. If not, you'll pay. Here are our VoIP provider top picks:
Most popular free web calls service - but calls to real phone numbers cost more
Used by over 600 million people around the world, Skype* is the biggest name in VoIP, letting you make free voice or video calls to other Skype users.
You can use it on PCs and Macs (with speakers and a headset) and even on some smart TVs. To use it on your mobile, download the free mobile app (works on iPhones, Android phones and Windows phones). You can also make Skype calls using your landline via a home phone adapter, or a cordless home phone with Skype already built in.
Whichever way you choose, if the person you're calling has Skype too, you won't pay. So someone using Skype on an iPhone in the UK to call someone using Skype on their TV in the US is free, for example.
Never automatically use Skype to make a phone call
While it's free to call a Skype contact, using Skype to call real phone numbers abroad is by no means the cheapest way. For example, using Skype in the UK to call a US landline would cost 1.7p/min. Yet the cheapest override provider charges 15p/call, which would be better for a longer call. To find the cheapest provider for each country, use the MSE CallChecker comparison service.
- Cost to use: Calls are free to other Skype users, or chargeable if calling a landline/mobile number not on Skype. but the app uses a small amount of data which may cost unless you're on wi-fi
- Can be used on: Mobiles, tablets, Windows computers, Macs, landline phones, some smart TVs, some games consoles
- Feedback: Skype feedback forum discussion