Yap stands for ‘your alternative phone’. It’s a complete package to get your PC going with Net2Phone’s Internet phone service. The lure is discounted and even free long distance and international phone calls. You can call conventional phone numbers at a discount, or other Net2Phone users’ PCs for free. Sounds too good to be true? Maybe. It does work but there are caveats.
Net2Phone is a long distance phone company based in the US. But instead of using a conventional phone, Net2Phone’s dialling software connects calls made via a PC connected to your local Internet service provider. Net2Phone routes the call from your ISP via an inexpensive IP (Internet Protocol) telephone backbone. Further down the line the call gets routed back onto the conventional phone network near its destination, if you are calling a conventional phone number.
While Net2Phone’s Internet backbone is optimised for voice telephony, your local ISP’s network probably isn’t. This, combined with the limited bandwidth a modem can provide, compromises call quality noticeably. We would rate a Net2Phone call as being inferior to typical mobile phone calls in terms of sound quality and reliability. Besides a gritty and sometimes muffled sound quality, your conversation can be frequently interrupted by transmission pauses. Also, there is often a perceptible time delay during a conversation.
The Yap packages available in the UK include a $10 (approx £6.50) calling credit and an audio input/output device. The version we tested came with a good quality Plantronics headset microphone that plugs straight into the analogue headphone and microphone ports of your PC’s sound card. For a tenner more you can opt for a Yap package based around a handset that plugs into a PC USB port. This means a sound card isn’t needed, and anyway, most people prefer a handset to a headset.
You wouldn’t want to run a business based on Net2Phone calls, but if you can put up with the poor line quality, you can hold a conversation and save substantially on standard international phone call tariffs. The prospect of completely free Net2Phone to Net2Phone calls is also very alluring, although this means you need to know when the other party you want to call is online, and one of the parties will need to know the other’s IP address. Since most ISPs don’t give you a permanent address, you will need to find this out every time. Instant messenger services like AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), ICQ and Microsoft Messenger can be helpful in this respect, and all these services actually offer Net2Phone service compatibility, but it’s still a lot of hassle.
Ultimately, it’s hard to recommend Net2Phone to UK users; the service seems to be biased towards users in the US. Our research suggests it’s often cheaper here to use your conventional phone via one of the many discount long distance operators, like OneTel. Our experience of a Net2Phone rival here in the UK, CallServe, makes matters worse for Net2Phone. CallServe is cheaper and offers better quality audio, although it doesn’t have a free user-to-user service.