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~ ~ The title is a wee bit misleading. With "blueface.ie", Ireland's very own Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone provider you can't actually call the world for free. But you can call large swathes of it for very little cost, and after paying through the nose for most of my life to landline based telephone service providers (like the heinous Eircom!) it certainly FEELS like your getting a free service.
~ ~ Anyway, I jump ahead of myself somewhat. Who or what are blueface, and what exactly is it they offer the hard done by Irish consumer in the slow to develop telecommunications market here in the Republic of Ireland? Well, a lot of you will have probably heard mention of VoIP telephones before, especially if you use eBay, who recently bought "SKYPE" and are selling the service hard on their auction site homepage. Blueface are a lot like Skype. They enable you to link up your home or business telephone system to the Internet, and instead of making calls over copper wire telephone lines, you can then use the World Wide Web to connect you to anywhere on the planet. One stipulation before I go any further. A fast (and stable) Broadband service is an absolute essential before you can sign up for any VoIP service, as the system simply won't operate on old, slow dial-up internet connections.
~ ~ Blueface are relative newcomers to the beleaguered Irish telecomm market, only starting operations just over a year ago in mid-2004. It was the brainchild of an Irish guy called Feargal Brady, a Trinity College graduate, who has since gathered around him a team of like minded international entrepreneurs to help ensure the companies on-going success. He obviously figured that the Irish market was crying out for a company that could offer the consumer a cut-rate telephone service. Since deregulation of the telecomm market here in Ireland back in the late 1990's, and the eventual breaking of the monopoly that the old State provider Eircom held, many telecomm providers have set up shop here, but they are manacled in the services they can offer by the simple fact that Eircom still own the "local loop" here in the Republic. Put simply, this means that Eircom still own the copper wire telephone lines that go into nearly everyone's house or business, and they make it as awkward and difficult as possible for any other telecomm company to offer cheaper calls or Internet services by charging them through the nose for use of their lines! This means that while there HAS been some improvement in the cost of services offered to the consumer, it hasn't been as dramatic as most people hoped for, and in reality there isn't that much of a difference in the charges of most of the main
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players like Eircom, British Telecom, and Smart.~ ~ I broke away from Eircom as my telephone provider as soon as I possibly could after deregulation (I hate the company with a passion!) and for the past few years have been using Ulster Television, (UTV) who are based in the North of Ireland as my Internet (ISDN) and telephone provider. But despite this I still had to pay Eircom a line rental of €38 per month for a copper wire telephone connection to my house that dated back to the 1950's and which was/is totally incapable of sustaining a DSL Internet connection! Then about three months ago (September 2005) I finally managed to obtain a Broadband connection with an Irish based wireless provider called Irish Broadband. (See my recent review) An antenna on my chimney breast then gave me a very reliable 2Mb internet connection. This meant that I was now able to subscribe to Blueface, as I had come across their webpage and was chomping at the bit to give them a try out, having been guided there by reading complimentary articles about the service in our quality daily broadsheet, the "Irish Times".
~ ~ Signing up was/is simplicity itself, as Blueface run a "realtime" website with a secure encrypted connection. Just fill in the forms with all your details, decide what level of service you want to subscibe to, and give them the number of your old flexible friend. (Credit card) One thing I particularly liked is that they allow you a week's free trial of the service BEFORE you actually sign up and pay a subscription, just to ensure that your internet connection is good enough to sustain a VoIP service, and that you're happy with the clarity of the line, etc. Another plus is that they don't tie you in on a six-monthly or yearly contract. You simply pay one month in advance, and can stop the service any time you choose. Thinking about it, I suppose you could even unsubscribe for a while if you were going to be away on business for a long period or out of the country, and then sign up again immediately on your return.
~ ~ There are various packages that you can subscribe to, the cheapest being a "pay as you go" option starting at only €5, much like those you get from mobile telephone companies. This allows you to access your blueface account from ANY telephone, and to make calls anywhere in the world at approximately 90% cheaper than the current Eircom rates. This is a good option for anyone who travels a lot, and it is easy to top-up your balance using your credit card either online or over the telephone. All the other packages are fixed price, and give you either free or far cheaper calls to anywhere in the world. I'm not going to bore the backside of you by going into minute detail on every available package, as this information can easily be obtained from the blueface website, but they vary in price from €9.99 per month, to the top package "Freedom World" at €24.99 per month. I went for the top package, and believe me, it's an incredible offer. For my flat rate charge I have unlimited calls to any landline anywhere in Ireland and the United Kingdom. I can also ring any landline in any of the European Union countries, and any landline in the United States and Canada, and in Australia and New Zealand. No call charges, no limit to the length of the calls, and no line rental! To call any country that's not included on the "free" list, then I simply keep a small "Pay As You Go" balance on my account, which can once again be topped up either online or by telephone. I have recently been ringing China in connection with ordering goods for a small eBay business I've started up, and the calls only cost me around 2 cents per minute! For the same reason I've also been ringing the USA on a regular basis, and these calls are all included in my flat charge fee.
~ ~ Oh, by the way, there is one further one-off charge involved, and that's for the router or telephone you require in order to operate your computer and your VoIP service of the one internet connection. I opted for a Linksys router which cost me just over €90, and which allows me to have up to three computers and two telephone lines of the one connection. You could even avoid this charge if you purchased your router or phone from say eBay, and configured it yourself. Is it easy to install? Simplicity itself, and it has to be believe me, as I am a renowned techniphobe who has trouble even changing a lightbulb. (Although I'm improving!) This is the main reason I opted to purchase my router from blueface, as it came already configured for my system. This meant that it was quite simply "plug and play". I linked up my broadband connection to the router, plugged in my telephone, and I was up and running. As an added bonus, I can now also run my old laptop from the router at the same time as my main PC, so if my young lass wants to play her computer games on the main computer, I can still browse the web on the laptop at the same time.
~ ~ Joining up at blueface (and Irish Broadband) has effected an amazing saving for me on my combined monthly charges for internet and telephone services. Before I was paying €38 per month to Eircom for two fixed telephone line so I could avail of an incredibly slow ISDN internet connection. Then I was paying UTV in or around €120 a month for my telephone calls, and a flat rate of €29.99 a month for my internet connection. A monthly bill of about €178. Now I pay Irish Broadband €47.99 a month for a fast, wireless Broadband connection, that's always on and has NO upload or download limits, (lovely!) and a further €24.99 to blueface for my telephone calls. A total of €73 per month. How's your maths? That's an incredible saving of over €100 per month, or €1,200 per year. And I have a FAR faster internet connection, and can call anyone, anywhere, and any time on my telephone.
~ ~ Any drawbacks? Well, yeah, there are one or two, but nothing I can't live with. First off, I STILL haven't managed to "port" my existing home telephone number from Eircom to blueface some three months after I applied to Eircom! This means that I STILL have to pay the satanic Eircom their blood money (sorry, I meant line rental) of €38 per month until such time as they see fit to allow blueface to take over my home number. I could have avoided this by simply closing my Eircom account, but this would have meant contacting all my family, friends and business associates to advise them of a change of number. A hassle I can live without thank you very much, even if it DOES mean putting of the much anticipated pleasure of telling Eircom to remove their antiquated copper wire telephone lines from my property! Incidentally, when I rang Eircom recently to find out what was happening about porting my number, I was inexplicably told that my home telephone line was now enabled to receive their DSL Broadband. This after them telling me for the past SIX YEARS that this wasn't the case!! Surprise, surprise. It couldn't have anything to do with them losing all my business, now could it? Stick it where the sun don't shine, you load of bloodsucking cretins! Another drawback is that if for any reason your broadband connection goes down, this also means you've lost your phone connection. This has happened to me twice in the last couple of months, once for about a four hour period. But as we all have mobile phones, it's a small disadvantage I can easily live with. Calls to mobile phones AREN'T covered in the all-in package. These cost 18 cents a minute peak rate, and 16 cents a minute off-peak. But I would have to pay for these with any telephone provider in any case, and at least the blueface charge isn't off the wall, and is charged "per second" instead of at a flat rate, which keeps the cost low.
~ ~ Blueface come with the highest possible recommendation from the mad cabbie, and I would have no hesitation in advising anyone to subscribe to a VoIP telephone service. Incidentally, while blueface is only available to subscribers here in the Republic of Ireland, a simple search using Google will give you a large choice of VoIP providers in the UK and elsewhere. If you have a fast Broadband connection, then why don't you check it out?