International calling (IDD) from the US to China is pretty cheap, around $0.05/minute on most carriers. On the reverse side, calling the US from China is quite expensive, around 2 RMB/minute (~$0.25). In my quest to find the best solution for people in the states to call me in China and for me to call the states, Skype has provided me with the solution.
For starters, something like Vonage wasn’t that appealing to me since I had to be in my apartment and to call my mobile phone from the states would have cost $0.10/min. So I started to look at Skype and bought a Skype In number and Skype Out service. Initially I was using Skype Out to call people in the states and had pretty much got the Skype In number just for kicks. That was, until I found out about call forwarding. Skype offers the ability on a Skype In call whenever you’re not available on the computer (or your Skype client isn’t connected) to forward to any PSTN number at the Skye rate. Well, the Skype rate to a Chinese mobile phone is $0.021/minute, the same as calling the United States. I set it to forward to my Chinese mobile number, and lo-and-behold, I have a phone number in the US that rings my mobile in China. The voice quality is quite good (although it’s not “great”) and it works flawlessly.
That solved my problem of receiving calls cheaply which left me with making calls out from my mobile in China to a number in the States. I would have liked to used the Skype In/Out with Forwarding voodoo but Skype In numbers are not sold in the PRC, but they are available in Hong Kong. I don’t have IDD set up on my mobile yet, but when it is, I may give that a shot and see what the per minute rate to Hong Kong is (from China Mobile). The other solution that I’m looking in to is to use Skype conferencing. Skype has an API that’s very complete and it can be used to start a voice conference with up to four parties. Thus, I’m thinking of putting a web page together that I can get to via my mobile, enter my mobile number and the destination number (e.g. the State-side number) and then allow it to bridge the call. I’ll give it a shot once I’m back in the States so I can fiddle around with it on my server. The cost should be about $0.05/minute since you have to pay for each call to the PSTN network severalty (still 1/5th the regular IDD rate from China to the US).