Skype Phone Brings Free Mobile Internet Calls to Masses Page: 1
Skype Phone Brings Free Mobile Internet Calls to Masses
Mobile phone operator 3 is understood to be working with online telephony operator Skype on a new low-cost handset that will bring free calls over the mobile internet to the mass market.
It has teamed up with a far eastern handset manufacturer to produce a Skype phone, to be launched later this year, that will be available for both pre-pay and contract customers.
It will allow the UK's estimated 2.5 million regular Skype users to log-in using their existing username and start making free calls and sending their mates instant messages when they are out and about.
The mobile phone industry is increasingly looking to new technologies to improve usage and revenues. While some companies such as 3 are looking to 'mobilise' existing online services such as Skype, other companies are looking to services such as advertising.
One start-up, Blyk, has already launched a service that offers British 16-24 year-olds free texts and talktime in return for accepting mobile adverts. Yesterday UK-based mobile technology firm ROK Entertainment Group announced plans to buy US rival Xero Mobile as a prelude to the launch of a competing service next year.
Los Angeles-based Xero Mobile has tested an ad-funded mobile service in college campuses across the US but has yet to launch a full service. ROK, which plans to float in the US later this year, wants to buy the company for its technology which it will use for its own service, aimed at students, to be launched this side of the Atlantic next year.
Skype, meanwhile, has proved incredibly successful with computer-based users, with 60 million people worldwide regularly using the service to make free calls. The service carries an estimated 7% of all international call traffic as Skype users across the globe can call each other without paying the hefty charges levied by traditional phone companies.
However, while it is very easy to use on a computer with a plug-in headset, its progression to the mobile internet has been far from smooth. Some mobile networks have tried to block Skype and similar services fearing they could wreck their profitable voice call businesses. Other operators worry that allowing customers to make internet calls will clog up their networks.
But 3, the UK's newest network, has been working with Skype, owned by eBay, for well over a year, and already offers the service on its X Series platform. The X Series, though, is a relatively niche product while the new Skype phone - likely to cost under £100 - will appeal to a much broader market.
Skype already offers a downloadable version of its software for mobile devices but getting it to work on a phone can be tricky and call quality is often low. The new 3 phone, however, is designed to make using Skype as easy as possible and actually utilises the mobile network's voice capability to route the initial part of the call, ensuring much better quality.
A spokesman for 3 admitted the company is working with "a leading internet communications company ... to produce an exciting new product to make free internet calls completely mobile".
He refused to give details but added: "The move marks a radical step forward in operator thinking and will mobilise internet calls for a mass market. It will also close the gap between internet communications and mobile calling and is something you won't see from any other operator."
The news came as 3, owned by Hong Kong-based conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa, yesterday unveiled a new way of pricing its service in the UK called 'Mix & Match' designed to rival popular tariffs such as Flext from T-Mobile. 3 has made one minute of phone calling equivalent to one text message and its five new options range from £15 a month for 300 minutes and texts - plus 300 free minutes of calls to other 3 customers - to £27 for 1,100 minutes and texts per month.
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