Long Distance Service Comparisons
Major Long Distance Service Providers
As the above chart demonstrates, there are a few categories of long distance service providers:
We have detailed some of the pros and cons of long distance service providers in the chart above. Here’s some additional information.
Traditional Telephone Service
Out of all the different types of long distance service providers, you are probably most familiar with traditional telephone service. This refers to companies like AT&T, Verizon, and MCI, which provide service to landline phones in homes and offices. These companies rely on the PSTN, or public switched telephone network, to make calls. This system was the standard for many years, but it definitely has some problems.
The PSTN is an analog system with many components and networks. It is a complicated system that requires a lot of maintenance and upkeep. It has been the standard for a long time, but its age has made it difficult to keep it modern and high-tech. As a result, service is expensive for the customer.
If you already use a traditional telephone service, then you have an analog phone in your house right now.
The PSTN requires lots of hardware because of the way that analog technology works. Analog data is difficult to send over a long distance. This means that every time you make a long distance call, it costs a lot for your traditional telephone service to process the call. As a result, the call costs more for you. For example, with AT&T, the Unlimited Nationwide Calling plan for home phone service costs $25/month. This may not seem too steep, but it is a much higher rate than you would pay with other phone services, such as VoIP.
The way the PSTN works also affects international calling. International calling is very expensive with a traditional telephone service provider. International calls with AT&T, for example, can cost over $3/minute.
Most traditional telephone service providers offer bundling. It has become popular in recent years as sales for individual services have declined. When you bundle, you combine several services into one bill. Bundles usually include
- Phone service
Most companies offer customized bundles, meaning you can pick and choose which services you want in your bundle. You should be wary of bundling; it can end up costing you more than its worth. The starting fees may look good (Verizon starts bundling for phone, TV, and Internet for 64.99/month), but prices usually increase later, and unless you use all of these devices a lot, you will be overpaying.
If you do a lot of long distance calling, VoIP may be a great choice for you. VoIP allows you to make calls over the Internet. This technology is very cheap and easy to use and will likely be the best deal for long distance service.
When you choose VoIP long distance service, you pay a low monthly fee -- usually between $5 and $15 for residential VoIP and $15 and $25 per user for business VoIP -- and in return you get unlimited calling in the United States. VoIP companies can offer you these low deals because of how VoIP works.
When you make a call over the Internet, all calls are basically local. This keeps the cost of calling very low, and allows you to save a lot of money on your long distance calling.
International calling also stays cheap with VoIP. On average, international VoIP calls cost between $0.01 to $0.10/minute.
With calling cards, you use a prepaid account to pay for your long distance or international calling.
When you want to make a long distance or international call with a calling card, you first call the 800 number on the card. After that, you dial the long distance number you are trying to reach.
This means that your phone company won’t charge you for a long distance or international call. They will only charge you for the call to the 800 number (which is paid by the calling card company, since they offer a toll-free number). The cost of the long distance call will be subtracted from the prepaid amount on the card.
Some calling card companies have very low rates, less than $0.01/minute. But calling cards are really responding to an inadequacy in the traditional telephone system. If you choose a different telephone service provider, you can avoid buying calling cards altogether.
Additional Long Distance Service Providers
You can choose a cable provider for your telephone service. Prices for plans with cable companies are comparable with prices with traditional telephone companies, sometimes a bit higher.
With Comcast, you can get 1 Full Featured Phone Line, their most basic package with unlimited domestic long distance, for $44.95/month. You can also bundle with cable companies.
Cable service also relies on the PSTN, so in effect, it is the same service as a traditional telephone company. The service is just offered by a cable company.
Dial around services are phone companies that you can use to “dial around” your telephone service provider. When you use dial around, you first call a dial around company’s number (this will be a 10-10-xxx number, like 10-10-321 or 10-10-220), and then you dial the long distance number you are trying to reach. As with calling cards, your service provider only charges you for the call to the dial around service’s number. You pay the dial around service for the cost of the long distance call.
These services used to be very popular in the 1990s, but they have become less popular these days because they aren’t very cheap anymore. A long distance call with a dial around company can cost up to $1/minute now.