Skype is simple, useful and free.
Well OK not strictly free. But it proved it’s worth in the first year I was at uni. My dilemma was simple, “how could I phone home cheaply and easily without a landline”. Firstly the mobile phone was ruled out, without doubt it is useful but it won’t be cheap, even making calls to a landline. The alternative was (without trying to sound like a geek!) voice over internet protocol or VoIP, for those who haven’t heard of or understand what this is, basicly it involves routing phone calls through the internet, or for more detail see the wikipedia article.
So how is this cheaper, firstly if you are talking to other users of VoIP then your call is completely free, secondly calls to landlines are often cheaper than making normal landline calls and certainly cheaper than payphones. Another positive is calls to international numbers are likely to be cheaper.
The drawbacks, well, people cannot phone you unless you pay for a number and then you have to be online to receive calls. Although if you are using an internet connection in a halls of residence you are unlikely to be paying costs equivalent to line rental. But call quality’s is not always as good as landline services. Also you need to have a microphone and headphones, but you could also use a webcam if you want.
But overall I was really pleased with the service I used, Skype, which is probably one off the most established VoIP operators. It allowed me to phone people cheaply without having to leave my computer, allowing me to do work at the same time! All you need to do is download the free software to your computer and follow their instructions. One last point if you are using university provided internet connection, check to see if Skype will work over it, for me it did but there is no guarantee as you are going over a network connection too. But if it does you should find Skype will help you save money whilst keeping in touch with family and friend!