Calling Cards vs. VoIP Comparison

There are two main types of calling options for making cheap calls to Portland: calling cards and VoIP phone service.

This page offers a comparison of the two with links to recommended vendors.

Using similar, but different methods, both calling cards and VoIP phone services are able to deliver lower rates mostly by bypassing regular telephone companies. They do this either at the originating end of the call, at the destination end of the call, or in the middle of the call during what's called the 'long haul transport' segment. Sometimes they do all three.

By bypassing the traditional phone companies, these cheap phone services can save you 50% - 95% off the international rates offered in regular landline or mobile phone plans.

To help you wade through the choices, we continuously evaluate vendors trying to identify the best firms - firms that offer not only cheap international calls, but that also deliver high call quality - and that are, of course, reliable.

In doing our analysis, we group vendors into 2 categories: calling cards vendors and VoIP service providers. While these categories are helpful, they are not perfect as some vendors don't fit neatly in one category or the other.

Read below for more on how calling cards and VoIP compare:

To skip straight to our recommended vendors, click these links:

Cheap Calls with Calling Cards

Calling cards are a way of buying telephone minutes on a prepaid basis. If you shop around, you can find calling cards with very cheap per minute rates for calling Portland or anywhere else in the world.

As you shop, you will undoubtedly find much cheaper per minute rates than the rates being offered by your existing landline or mobile phone service.

In comparison to VoIP services which can in very different ways, all calling cards work basically the same: you dial into their network using and access number and then dial in the destination number to complete the call.

Calling Card Characteristics

Things typically associated with calling card or phone card services include:

  • Uses a conventional keypad dialing process from a landline or mobile phone
  • Used exclusively with normal landline or mobile phones (not computers)
  • Usage does not require an internet connection
  • Calls originate and terminate on traditional PSTN phones (i.e., on the normal voice telephone network)
  • Works for outbound calling only - you can't receive inbound calls unless you give someone your card
  • Supports only very basic features such as PIN-less dialing, speed dial, and, possibly, call logs
  • Bought on a prepaid pay-as-you-go basis - normally in preset amounts / denominations
  • Calling cards are permitted in all countries worldwide
  • Calling cards work the same way in all countries worldwide

Calling Card Pricing

While some cards have very 'clean' pricing, another thing commonly associated with calling cards is complicated pricing. Multiple pricing elements, hidden fees, overstated minutes, and a general lack of price transparency is all too common.

In addition to regular per minute charges, many calling cards charge connection fees, maintenance fees, carrier service surcharges, and/or toll-free access charges, among other possible fees. These extra fees can add up quickly.

Calling card pricing can be so complicated it borders on, and too often is, fraudulent. Vendors are constantly being brought forward for fraud, false advertising and other charges (see how to avoid calling card scams).

As a result, we recommend that you buy a 'clean calling card' from a reputable vendor. A 'clean' calling card is a calling card with few, if any, extra fees beyond the advertised per minute rates. We also recommend buying your calling cards online because store-bought cards tend to be more prone to fraud.

Calling Card Call Quality

Another common problem with calling cards is low 'call quality' - meaning variously connection delays, voice latency, gaps, heavy background noise, and static, among other problems. This is due to the fact that calls are being delivered not on high quality voice telephone networks, but rather on somewhat less reliable VoIP networks.

Still for many people, any quality issues are well offset by the lower costs - especially if you shop around and get yourself one of the more reliable vendors.

Calling Card Technology

While calling cards work over normal telephones, it turns out that many calling cards use VoIP or similar technologies to deliver calls, even if they don't say so explicitly. This is especially true for cards not from name brand telephone carriers like AT&T, BT, or Reliance, etc.

That's partly how they are able to offer lower prices - VoIP networks are inherently much cheaper than traditional PSTN telephone networks. Unfortunately, VoIP networks also sometimes suffer from call quality problems which are also seen with VoIP calling.

Visit to learn more about international calling cards.

Recommended calling cards

Our recommendations are based on a careful review of company products, call quality, and pricing, among other factors. To read more on how we choose our recommended vendors.

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Cheap Calls with VoIP

VoIP is a way of using the internet to make telephone calls. By using the internet instead of more expensive traditional phone networks, VoIP companies are able to offer very cheap international calls.

VoIP is an acronym that stands for 'Voice over Internet Protocol'. 'Internet Protocol' is a technology used to transmit information over the internet. VoIP is also known as 'internet telephony'.

VoIP Services Are More Varied Than Calling Cards

VoIP phone services are much more varied than calling cards for two reasons:

  • VoIP technology is very powerful and it enables many things beyond straight voice calling
  • VoIP operators are very entrepreneurial and they combine services, pricing, and other elements in creative ways

So whereas all calling card companies offer pretty much the same type of service, VoIP providers can be quite dramatically different from one another.

VoIP Phone Service Characteristics

Because there is such a rich variety of options with VoIP, we can't provide a nice, clean summary as we did above for calling cards. But within the wide spectrum of VoIP choices, here are some of the things you'll generally see:

  • VoIP services support a variety of 'dialing' options, including phone-to-phone, PC-to-PC, smartphone-to-phone, and PC-to-phone
  • Many VoIP services offer a 'softphone' or 'VoIP client' version which is used on a computer or smartphone
  • Most VoIP services provide a way to make 'out-of-network calls' to regular landline and mobile phones - some allow inbound calls as well
  • In-network calls to other people using the same VoIP service are quite often completely free
  • Most VoIP services are not able to dial into other VoIP services
  • Most VoIP services support both inbound and outbound calling
  • Some VoIP providers offer a wide variety of value-added voice calling features not available with calling cards, including, virtual phone numbers, voice mail, caller ID, and call forwarding, among others
  • Some VoIP providers also offer capabilities well beyond basic voice calling, such as video calling, text chat, file sharing, screen sharing, blog plug-ins, toolbars, and more
  • Some VoIP services require special equipment (e.g., VoIP network adapters) - and some don't
  • VoIP billing plans vary widely and include calling card-like prepaid plans, recurring monthly subscriptions, a la carte pay-as-you-go billing, and other options
  • Due to government regulation, VoIP services are not available in all countries

All in all, you'll find that buying a VoIP service involves understanding and comparing a variety of options to determine which is best for your needs. The options range from full-service VoIP products intended to completely replace your home phone to pay-as-you-go calling card-like services designed for short term or periodic needs. As a result, you've got to look at a lot more factors when buying a VoIP service, whereas when buying a calling card, you are largely buying on the basis of price - and, to some degree, call quality.

VoIP Pricing

VoIP service plans generally have simpler pricing than calling cards - usually either just a per minute rate or a flat rate for unlimited calling. There may, however, be more payment approaches - monthly plans, pre-paid plans, a la carte plans, etc.

Thankfully, VoIP does not suffer from the prevalence of scams seen with calling cards. Generally speaking pricing terms are pretty clear and there are few, if any, hidden fees. That said, VoIP companies come and go in the market with some frequency, so you'd be advised to buy from a well established vendor.

What can be confusing about the pricing is figuring out the terminology of each plan and knowing what each pricing element actually covers - e.g., inbound vs. outbound calls. In some sense, VoIP has it's own vocabulary to describe the various things that it does.

VoIP Call Quality

VoIP calls can suffer from noticeable call quality issues, especially for the consumer-oriented VoIP services we focus on here. While VoIP isn't an inherently lower quality medium for delivering calls than traditional voice networks, you don't get top quality VoIP when paying for the cheap stuff.

If you do buy the good stuff - as many business customers do - you can actually get much higher call quality with VoIP than with calling cards or normal phone lines. In fact, high performance VoIP networks can deliver completely lifelike call quality as if the person was standing next to you. This type of quality is referred to as 'high definition voice' or 'HD voice' and is akin to CD quality in music.

But still even at the lower end, VoIP call quality is getting better and better - and in most cases, call quality is perfectly fine for calls between friends and family. However, if you are primarily needing to make business calls, then you may need to ensure your VoIP provider can deliver the requisite quality.

For further information on VoIP, visit our VoIP calling guide.

Recommended VoIP providers

Our recommendations are based on a careful review of company products, call quality, and pricing, among other factors. To read more on how we choose our recommended vendors.

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