The Internet has brought many fantastic advances for home and work. PC users can collaborate more easily on projects, locate information quickly, keep up with current events and keep in contact with one another more conveniently. Communication has taken great leaps forward with forums, instant messaging, email and social networking sites. Skype is a company that offers many features for communication over the Internet, and if your bandwidth meets certain requirements, you can also use Skype for phone calls and video calls.
How Skype Works
Skype is a system you can use to make phone calls over the Internet after you create an account and buy credit. Just like you can download and upload sound files, such as MP3s, you can also send and receive sound in real time; the effect is similar or sometimes identical to having a landline or a cell phone. Options for using Skype include a microphone and speakers on your computer, a headset, a webcam and even a few custom phones. Since audio and often video must stream over your Internet connection, there are certain bandwidth minimums that must be met for you to use Skype. Your Internet provider can let you know what your bandwidth capabilities are.
One option with Skype is to use audio only. This is essentially the same as using a traditional phone, though depending on your setup you may need to be at your computer. For voice-only calling, you must have at least 30 kbps (kilobits per second) download speed and 30 kbps upload speed. That meets the minimum requirements only, though; you may encounter audio problems sometimes at this level. Skype recommends no less than 100 kbps for your upload and download speeds.
With a webcam and Skype, you can film yourself and send your image real-time to another person as they send their own real-time image back to you. Your faces each appear on the other person's screen, and the effect is as close to a face-to-face conversation as technology allows. The bandwidth demands jump significantly for this mode of communication; video-chatting involves much more data being sent and received. The minimum for video calls is 128 kbps for uploading and downloading, and the recommended speed is 300. There are options for higher-quality video calls as well; recommended bandwidth for high-quality is 500 kbps, and recommended for high-definition is 1.5 Mbps (1,500 kbps).
Group Video Calls
With sufficient bandwidth, Skype users even have the option to set up video calls with three or more people. Group calls let every participant see each of the others on-screen. Of course, the bandwidth requirement for this option can get pretty high. For 3 people, you need at least 512 kbps for download speeds and 128 kbps for upload, but Skype recommends 2 Mbps (2,000 kbps) for download and 512 kbps for upload. If you get seven or more people in your video call, you'll need at the very least a 4 Mbps download speed and 128 kbps upload, and the recommended speed is 8 Mbps for downloading and 512 kbps for uploading.
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