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Skype Handsets

Q. I enjoy reading your column and I appreciate the opportunity to possibly get your suggestions on conference calling via Skype.

I often have to do lengthy global conference calls from home into the night and both headsets and regular telephone handsets are just too uncomfortable to use for any length of time. I prefer using Skype and would like to know if you have any suggestions for conference call devices I can use with Skype to make these calls a little more comfortable and leave my hands free.

Aston Bridgman

A. Well it just so happens that I have recently come across just such a device – the Polycom Communicator (www.polycom.com/communicator) which I think could well be ideal for your requirements.

As you suggest, using a handset or even a headset for lengthy Skype calls can be both uncomfortable and inconvenient. The Polycom Communicator, which costs $129, is a sleek and small hands-free portable device that is small enough to move easily from room to room or take on a business trip. (It also comes with a carrying case.)

The Communicator has an integrated USB (universal serial bus) cable that plugs into a standard USB port on a PC so there are no extra cables to carry.

It has two built-in stereo microphones and comes with a fold out stand that makes it easy to use on a desktop and angles the device towards the user.

Inside the Polycom Communicator, the device features hardware that supports up to 22kHz audio producing what Polycom claims is the best possible voice quality over Skype – certainly I have been impressed during my recent brief test. It also does well eliminating echoes and feedback using Polycom’s proprietary technology.

The front of the device features a set of easy access control buttons that enable users to launch Skype, pick up and hang up calls, and control volume and mute.

Now that Skype is being adopted by a broader range of users – including a growing number of business users – the number of devices like the Communicator is set to grow so I am sure there will be other conferencing devices like the Polycom.

Q.I was most interested in your article on equipment available for internet telephony, but could find no specific reference to machines that were not Skype dedicated. We use a system called Voipstunt and have no wish to change, especially because of their excellent ´callback` service.

Can you point me in the direction of some similar kit as you reviewed, but non skype dedicated?

George Low

A. Thanks for the email George. As always I totally agree that if you have found a service that fits your needs stick with it.

Unfortunately, because Skype uses some proprietary technology and requires Skype software to be running on a connected PC or inside the handset (as in the case with the NetGear wireless phone), devices designed to work specifically with Skype will not work with non-Skype VoIP services.

Several other vendors including Phillips sell DECT-based cordless phones that plug into both a regular phone line and an Ethernet broadband connection and come with Skype software built into the base station – Philips also sells a version that works with MSN’s service without requiring a PC.

There are also a growing number of USB-based VoIP phones and headsets that work with SIP (session initiated protocol) services like Voipstunt. If you specifically want a wireless solution, a number of companies including Taiwan-based G-Tek Electronics (http://www.g-tekgroup.com/products/pwg_300.asp) have announced wireless gateways that plug into a PC and then allow you to use any bluetooth enabled headset with the service.

There are also a number of Wi-Fi-based VoIP phones that work with non-PC based VoIP services.

Manufactuers include Linsys with the WP330, the Zyxel P-2000W_v2 Wireless VoIP Wi-Fi Sip IP Phone which works over a WiFi network and UTStarcom’s stylish F1000G an F3000 WiFi handsets. However these handsets are designed to work with broadband-based VoIP services like Vonage rather than PC-based softphone services like Skype or Voipstunt.

Q. I was quite interested in your article in the FT about Skype and various add-ons, both current and to come. I was however very surprised to read nothing about the Dual Phones, which I have purchased. A wonderful idea, marred only by the fact that the phones are not well made. (Which I have complained about to both Skype and the Dual Phone people, to no avail.)

Daniel Hughes

A. Sorry to hear about you problems with the Cordless DECT-based Dual phone, which as you say, are a great idea. I have no personal experience with these particular handsets but know from bitter experience that build quality in cutting edge consumer electronics products is not always what it should be.

I hope your problem is resolved satisfactorily.

Security

Q. I much appreciate your regular articles and informed advice in the FT; however, thinking that my pc was well protected largely as a result of your earlier advice, having installed Zonelabs Security Suite and PC Tools Registry Mechanic, I am puzzled by your article in Friday’s FT: are these new software programs intended to compete with existing firewalls and protection systems, or are they supplemental to them? I apologise for my ignorance and would appreciate your advice.

Colin Lyle

A. Sorry Colin, I should have made it clearer in my article that programs like GreenBorder are add-ons and are definitely not intended to compete with or replace security suites like Zonelabs Security – one of my favorites.

They do however provide an added security layer with minimum downside in terms of slower performance. Over time I would expect to see this type of virtualization technology built into Security suites, but for the moment they provide an added level of comfort, particularly if you are conducting transactions online.

Hope that helps.

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