What's needed for external calls: DID/VOIP provider?

I’m still researching what it will take to get to a working Asterisk setup that can handle in/outbound calls. My first implementation would be for learning/testing and casual use.

Given that, I contracted sticker shock when I saw that the smallest-capacity analog card with FXO and FXS modules could cost up to around $600.

That was almost enough to close the door right there.

Then I remembered from the Say-Hello-To-Asterisk tutorial at Digium that a PC doesn’t need any additional hardware at all for a pure IP implementation.

My current understanding is that if I had a VOIP provider that supports Asterisk (what determines that?), then I could have multiple concurrent phone calls (there was a term for that – concurrent sessions?) to the extent supported by my broadband bandwidth.

But I also thought I read somewhere that all I really needed was a DID provider and my existing broadband connection. And there seemed to be some information indicating that I could get a free DID.

So perhaps I can get to a working system that handles in/out calls with a softphone, a free DID, and my existing DSL connection?

[And by the way, I was trying to D/L the PDF referred to in the Say-Hello tutorial, and asterisk.org/docs was not available, along with other pages at asterisk.org. Are some of those servers down?]

A “DID Provider” is a VoIP provider that supports incoming calls. This is a misuse of the term Direct In Dialing that is endemic in the SIP world, as they may or may not actually forward part of the dialed number to you.

The main contraindication to supporting Asterisk would be if the service is specifically designed for individual phones. Given the ubiquity of Asterisk, any competent VoIP provider supplying services for PABXes should be able to support Asterisk.

That’s a helpful starting point which means to me something like this: A DID provider is then commonly but not quite correctly used to refer to VOIP providers that don’t provide just Internet-only calls like free Skype, but also maintain a gateway to the PSTN, and they provide DID numbers and credentials to their subscribers for use on that gateway.

But the interesting article at http://www.voip-info.org/wiki/view/DID+Service+Providers includes a free DIDs section, and the United States entries seem to include not only DID wholesalers, but also some providers of free DIDs to end-users. Some of the end-user services are also VOIP providers (GoogleVoice), but I don’t recognize IP Communications or SipGate as such, and maybe they are offering just free DID service. Can anyone confirm what they offer? Do the two GoogleVoice recipes still work, and will that give me everything I need?

Or if there are some companies offering just free DID service, does that indicate that they are providing free inward VOIP? In other words, what other ingredients would I need to get a complete working system? Just GoogleVoice for outward calls?

And is anyone able to answer the other questions from my original post?