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Ditch landline phones at home and at work with these VOIP services

Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VoIP as it’s more commonly known, is increasing in popularity exponentially. It has important advantages over the conventional home telephone services that are its primary competition, and there’s even a growing number of mobile apps that can augment and sometimes replace cell phone services entirely. But with so many VoIP service providers out there, which one is right for you?

Related: Skype’s time at slack may be done, service to push its own VoIP tools

The answer probably depends on exactly what you need. Something to replace a landline telephone? Something that allows you to make phone calls from your laptop? Something that will let you share a single phone line between your house and cell phone? It’s all possible. We’ll be focusing on consumer-grade services, especially those that offer a free option, in this breakdown.

Skype

Skype VoIP

Skype is probably the best-known VoIP solution in existence, thanks to successful service that spans more than a decade. The company is now owned and operated by Microsoft, which means that Skype is integrated with Windows 10, but the service is available on the web, Mac OS X, Linux, all major mobile operating systems, and even the Xbox and some smart TVs.

Skype audio and video calls are free from one Skype account to another, anywhere in the world. To make calls to conventional phone numbers and receive them at your own number, however, you’ll need to either subscribe to a monthly pool of minutes or pay for a credit fill-up. Rates are competitive and offer options for both landlines and mobile, and some country plans can be had for as little as $2.50 a month. An alternative for some countries is World Unlimited minutes, which allows unlimited calls to 63 countries for $14 a month.

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Skype

Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts VoIP

Google’s competitor to Skype doesn’t have nearly the same cachet, but it is available in the same places and integrated with mobile. The Hangouts app is primarily for chats, but it can also emulate conventional text messaging and make video calls and voice calls to landline. Calls to most numbers in the United States are free. Rates for different countries and providers vary from a single penny per minute to more than a dollar, and credit can be refilled.

Hangouts is built into most recent Android phones, and messages to other Hangouts users will default to the Google’s chat client instead of using SMS. Installing the Hangouts Dialer enables conventional phone calls. Apps or extensions are also available on the desktop via Chrome, on Chrome OS devices, and on the iPhone and iPad.

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Google

Vonage

Vonage VoIP

Vonage is the best-known VOIP provider in the United States, one that emulates conventional landline phones. The standard plan is $10 a month and covers all calls to landline and mobile numbers in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. International calls are billed per minute, like an old-fashioned landline plan. Other plans offer discounts for international calls, or calls to specific countries.

Once installed, Vonage works with traditional landline telephone handsets, and mobile apps allow users to make and receive calls from their Vonage number. The service also supports a host of advanced landline features such as caller ID, visual voicemail, three-way calling, call return, and a “do not disturb” mode. Curious customers can get a Starter Package that includes Vonage’s standard installation hardware — which doesn’t require a technician — with free calls to other Vonage-supplied numbers.

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Vonage

Ooma Telo

Ooma Telo VoIP

Ooma is a competitor to Vonage that prides itself on crystal-clear, encrypted calls thanks to its proprietary platform. The service starts with a small, router-style gadget which can plug into conventional landline phones. With just the $100 router, users can make free calls to U.S. numbers — even without a service plan — and per-minute international calls, with support for voicemail and other standard telephone features.

For users who want more out of their VoIP service, the Ooma Premier service is available for $10 a month. The premium service supports a second phone number, blacklisting, and allows you make and receive calls via a smartphone app. Ooma Premiere also supports smart home features that no other service can match. It can interface with the Amazon Echo, the Nest thermostat and Nest Protect, and even “smart” wall outlets and light bulbs.

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Ooma

Lingo

Lingo Adapter VoIP

Lingo mixes a Vonage-style VoIP service with an international unlimited plan that should appeal to anyone who needs to frequently call outside the United States. Lingo Unlimited is also available for as little as $15 a month with a contract ($20 without), and comes with a free adapter that works with landline phone hardware. The $10-a-month plan offers 500 international minutes, which might make better sense for lighter users. The service also supports standard phone features and multiple lines, but using Lingo via a smartphone app requires you to pony up an extra $10 a month. It’s best suited for users who make frequent calls at specific times from their home or business.

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Lingo

What’s best?

Skype and Hangouts are good enough for users who don’t want to make any investment in new hardware. Skype, Vonage, and Ooma also offer business-class services with more features for additional rates, so check out their websites if you’re looking for a more elaborate service. Vonage is probably the best bet for home users who want a landline alternative, while Skype is preferable for businesses who want a complete VoIP and teleconferencing service.