Skype is a free desktop software program which allows its users to communicate with one another, free of charge, via chat, voice calling or video calling. The service has a wide range of benefits beyond this capability, including the ability for users to call phones and send SMS text messages with pre-paid Skype credit.
Free Computer-to-Computer Calls
Skype's primary benefit is it allows members to make free phone calls between one another when logged into the service using a computer or via mobile application, such as the Skype application for the iPhone. If you're signed into your Skype account and notice one of the people in your contact list is also signed in, you can communicate with him, free of charge, in one of three ways: chat, voice call or video call.
Calling and Texting Phones
Skype also allows its users to call and send text messages to phones -- albeit with a small charge, one which varies depending on the country you're calling and the location from which you're making the call. Once you purchase pre-paid Skype credit, you can use it to make calls and send text messages literally all over the world, either using the computer program or a mobile application. This comes especially in handy if you're traveling without a working cell phone: simply find a Wi-Fi connection, connect your phone to it, launch the Skype application and make calls.
Skype Internet Access
Making phone calls and sending text messages are not the only uses for your Skype credit. In partnership with wireless Internet provider Boingo, Skype has introduced "Skype Access," which allows you to use Skype credit to pay for access to Boingo Internet hotspots, which you can find in coffee shops, bookstores and even airports around the world. Skype Access doesn't require you to install any additional software -- if a connection is available, Skype will automatically prompt you to use your available credit to gain access.
Online Number and Voice Mail
To help expand the benefits of Skype to those who don't care to use the program, Skype has introduced the online number. For a small fee -- $18 for three months as of February 2011 -- you can purchase a number which allows friends and family to call you at local rates as if you were using a phone, only you'll answer with Skype. Skype also offers a voice mail service -- starting at $6 for three months as of February 2011 -- which allows people who call you on Skype when you're away to leave voice mail messages.