Recently, more and more people asked me how it comes to happen, that I know that much about international telecommunication, their problems, their shortcomings, the solutions for calling to abroad for free or at a very good rate.
So, I have decided to share my experiences with my readers out there.
(This blog post will cover the years 2001-2003 and 2008-2010 because 2004-2007 I basically only did use Skype for calling to abroad)
In 2001, when somebody sent me an email asking: "Do you have ICQ?" it all started with installing it. speaking by voice was still terrible at that time. Quality was awful and it sounded like you are speaking to somebody from the radio rather than directly to you.
Thanks to call-by-call it was cheap to call to abroad to landline phones. So I would speak to people from abroad using that.
Back in the days there were some troubles. Russia had this (I don't know whether it still is this way) Numbering Plan..... I mean, in many countries you have something like a "hidden '0' when calling from abroad, this zero of the city code would drop off.... Russia had a "hidden '0'" but only in certain cases. A pretty weird system even no Russian understood, but I figured it out :)
There was also this weird problem, that SMS to any Brazilian mobile phone would never get delivered and calls (I wasn't planning to, but at least this way I could see whether the routing to those numbers work) didn't either.
So, after exchanging half a dozen emails with ANATEL, I finally could obviously convince them to have a look into the issue, as a few week later it all worked!
Also Amenia had a problem around the end of 2002/beginning of 2003.
Calls would abort after 5 mins (more often after 30 seconds), calling the national phone company "ArmenTel" (now called "Beeline"), resulted in being re-routed to random numbers in Yerevan rather than the actual phone company. Which resulted in calls like: "Uhm, why are you calling me? Do I know you?" and people screaming on me "LISTEN, YOU HAVE TO DIAL THE CORRECT NUMBER!!!"
Emailing them was also no solution, as they wouldn't answer you.
At that time, ICQ still displayed email addresses in the People Search. So what I did is, tracking down all ArmenTel workers that used ICQ and copied their email addresses.
I explained the whole situation in an email..... 3 days later, I received an email from the "Head of Planning and Engineering" department....he gave me his direct phone number and invited me to discuss this situation in a phone call.... which we did..... 3 months later, ArmenTel announced that they expanded the network capacity. They also introduced a system that detects whether you are calling from abroad or not, so you would hear all the messages by the phbone network in either Armenian, Russian or English.
(Most other phone providers first say it in the national language and then in English).
So, instead of just connecting you randomly to somewhere else when a route was overloaded, a voice would say "route overload" or you would hear stuff like: "The person you are trying to call is currently in a conversation, please try again later".
There was another unique problem, but that was just for one evening. As probably many of you know, +1 is the country code of USA & Canada.
So instead of being connected to Ontario, I was being connected to a random place in South/Latin America. (I have tried 5 times in total then I gave up). I guess I was quite lucky that people were too tired to scream on me. It was something like: "Hola?" ... "I guess I am not speaking to Canada?" ... (with a very strong Spanish accent) "Well, no you are not." .... "Oh, sorry so!" ... "Never mind, good night! (click)".
Then in 2006, JaJah came up with their unique service "Talkster".
A service that wasn't widely known by the people out there (me included)...but suddenly in 2008, it all changed when SkypeJournal reported about this service.
It was a service that replaces the number of your friend from abroad (doesn't matter if the destination is a landline number or a mobile phone number) with a local landline number of your own country. The same happens to your friend. And once you are connected you ask the other to call you back on the local number they got for you while you stay on the line, and voilla, there you go with the free international call! (You only have to pay the local costs that is like calling to a friend, but if you have a flatrate for national landline calls, it is free for you!).
At first, I have tried it with a friend from Sweden (it worked) and then from Peru (didn't work at first, then after one fix by Talkster it worked one way and then after a second change it worked both ways).
Here, it paid off that Talkster had a good, nice and supportive customer support.
In December 2009, Talkster was acquired by RebTel which was the first that could have happened. More countries supported for free calls, even faster customer support.
And the dealing with the fact that Peru changed their Numbering Plan for calling mobile phones showed that they do care about problem reports.
Back in 2008, I wanted to surprise a friend from Bulgaria with this new possibility, but since I know that certain providers in some countries still change roaming fees for receiving calls from abroad on your mobile, I wanted to assure she won't have a problem with that. Vivatel (now VivaCom), was hard to come by, as they ignored emails, and most numbers they posted on their English homepage only worked if you lived inside Bulgaria. Finally having found a number that worked, I was welcomed by the automated voice system with ".....Vivatel. For English, press '1'."
...."Please wait.... Please hold the line....please wait..... blah"
Then somebody answered my call...... and I was like "Hello there, I am calling from ...." .... "(click)".
2nd try.... same game.
The 3rd try I said: "LISTEN, DON'T HANG UP THIS TIME!!!!!! OK????????"....."OK. moment...."
*music* *music* *music* *music* *music* .... and finally somebody that spoke to me without hanging up......
As many of my blog readers know, I have written blog entries about my experiendes from time to time, and together with the iPhone3G and Talkster hype, there were half a dozen new voip companies that promised you super cheap calls to destinations like India, Pakistan, Latin America and any other country you could think of.
2008 and 2009 was also the time where those phone companies read my blog, emailed me and offered me up to 2h of free calls to any destination I like to test their call quality.
The result was sometimes bad and choppy connections and confused reactions because the connection was so terrible.
Not many telephony providers can match the very good call quality Skype and Rebtel can offer.
If you have a problem with a connection, you can tell them and they will go and fix it.
Conclusion is: If you are doing a lot of calls to abroad, subscribe to the Numbering Plan newsletter (see Numbering Plan link above).
To complain about bad or non-working phone connection is a good thing but sometimes it can turn out being pretty difficult.
Positive to mention is the very much improved customer support of Skype, the very caring and responsive crew of Rebtel and the Peruvian Regulator of Telecommunication "OSIPTEL" who translated the Numbering Plan of Peru in English for me back in 2008 when it was only available in Spanish then.
Thanks to all phone services out there who allowed me a bunch of free calls to abroad and if you want, ask me to test call connection qualities again anytime :)
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