seen the posters, and the words 'free calls' remain etched into the
memory as you wonder gripping your current contract-sucking handset,
whether you should get in on the action.

Before you consider taking the plunge into the world that is Skype, here are 10 things we think you should know about it.

1) How does it work?

by the people that brought you the once file-to-file sharing network
marvel that was Kazaa, Skype is a VoIP application easily downloadable
to your desktop PC or in the case of a Skype-friendly mobile like the
iPhone, through the Apple iTunes Store. Using your current internet
connection, all you have to do is grab your headset with microphone,
hit the green button, and you are ready to call people across the world
for free.

2) It's free, well mostly

to a fellow Skype user whether through your computer or Skype-enabled
device will set you back the pricely sum of nothing. But before you
dump your contract phone, it will cost you a small fee to talk to
someone who is not on Skype. You can own local numbers in a host of
countries, with your calls to the number charged at the same rate as
calls to fixed lines in your own country. Services like SkypeIn and
SkypeOut are the route to contacting people on their existing mobile
numbers or land-line numbers. It may sound silly, but ensure you know
enough people on Skype to fully embrace the service.

3) Skyping all over the world

what is great about Skype is being able to talk to your long distant
relatives in Oz without the pain of the long-distance charge. That is
however not the case for every country. Skype is built on a closed
protocol which translated means all equipment used is made by the
company but also means that a country like China bans the use of Skype.
Having recently refused the allowance of Wi-Fi handsets, over fears
users would add internet phone services such as Skype to make calls,
unofficially it was claimed that it was because they could not track
calls. So if you got mates in China you are hoping to talk to for free
you may need to think again.

4) Skype devices

with Skype sitting on your toolbar on your PC, mobile network provider
3 provides a series of Skypephone handsets, while the PSP via its Wi-Fi
connection can also be used for your free calling. Rumours that Skype
could be moving to the DSi have been fierce with the Nintendo claming
they did not want to develop a mobile service which required a monthly
contract. Also available as an app for the iPhone and iPod Touch, it
has proved one of their most popular downloads surpassing more than one
million downloads, that's six downloads every second and a clear sign
of its popularity.

5) Skype plugins

like the Apple's App Store, Skype has its own place to add more life to
your Skype life and make it more than just a place to chat freely.
Built with open developer API, it is a free-for-all for those who want
to create plugins and add-ons for Skype and go on sale to other users.
So if you fancy a spot of chess with your pal in the Ukraine or
chilling out to some tunes on, simply head to the Skype Extras
store and take a browse.

6) Skype mobiles

If you pick up a one of the Skype mobiles you are essentially
getting the best of both worlds. As the users of Skype blossoms into
their millions, you can contact them for free while still retaining
some of the more familiar mobile phone usability.

Allowing you to
make Skype phone calls and use the instant messaging service for free,
video calling however is not yet supported. ASUS have recently revealed
their EEE Videophone, which is not quite a mobile but fully supports
face-to-face calling if you need it. If you don't fancy buying a 3
Skype phone, simply pay up a nominal fee for a 3 sim to use on a
compatible unlocked handset, download the application and you are on
your way to free call heaven.

7) Video chatting

of Skype-to-Skype phone calls include video, and it is one of the
features which extend its popularity to the likes of talk show colossal
Oprah Winfrey using it on one of her shows. With your webcam connected,
hit the green button and then the webcam button and you are on your way
to conducting business from overseas, or showing off your latest party
trick. It is clearly a great way to cut the cost of paying out for a
video conferencing set-up at work and the quality of the feedback is
one of the best around.

8) Skype means business

has a genuine presence in the world of business, and it is valued so
much by some companies that it has been known to be used to hold job
interviews. Solving the dilemma of an overseas candidate having to
travel half the side of the globe to be grilled for an hour can be
evaded as the video calling via Skype is simplicity in itself,
providing slightly grainy but nonetheless a refreshingly clear picture
to show off your best job-winning skills to your prospective employee.

9) Skype Messenger

that there is more to Skype than phone calls, the Skype Messenger is
also a free service from your PC and from Skype-enabled devices.
Considerably one of the most effective and easy to use messengers
around, simply build up you contact list and then begin to drag and
drop people into your existing chats. Chat history is saved in a way
which it is easy to refer back to, while file transferring is a simple
drag and drop away from your conversation. Skype also allows you to
download videos from sites DailyMotion and Metcafe so you can chat,
watch a video and file share all in the same window.

10) Free forever?

For the time being, yes it is but mobile network providers are all too
aware of the growing prominence of the VoIP application and how it may
affect their business. With the new roaming regulation in effect since
July, some of the major mobile phone manufacturers are wondering
whether the service of Skype and your standard mobile phone connection
should be paid separately, with Nokia's recent announcement to
pre-install their N97 handsets with Skype forcing 02 and Orange to
block the sale of the phone through their networks. The likelihood of
paying for both services seems unlikely, but not impossible, so while
it's still free we suggest you get the most out of this VoIP wonder.