Skypephone Unveiled; No PC Needed To Make Calls - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications

Skypephone Unveiled; No PC Needed To Make Calls

The 3 Skypephone will cost about $100 and be available in Australia, Austria, Denmark, Hong Kong, Italy, Ireland, Macau, Sweden, and the U.K.

Skype has introduced a mobile phone that will enable callers to dispense with their computers and make free calls to other Skype users as they move about nine countries, including the U.K. Skype, a unit of eBay, teamed up with mobile operator 3 in the effort.

The 3 Skypephone lets you make free Skype-to-Skype calls and send free instant messages without a PC.
(click for image gallery)
Unveiled Monday, the 3 Skypephone will be available for about $100 and won't incur additional service provider charges from 3. In addition to the U.K, the service will be available this year in Australia, Austria, Denmark, Hong Kong, Italy, Ireland, Macau, and Sweden. The 3 mobile operator provides service in those countries. The service won't be offered at first in the United States, although Skype users in the countries cited will be able to call Skype users for free in the U.S.

"You can put it in your pocket and take it with you," said Eric Lagier, Skype's director of business development, in an interview. "This will be important for new Skype users, who won't need a PC. Now they will be able to call using just the phone."

Lagier said the phone supports recent proposals Skype has made to the FCC. He indicated the phone could be offered in the United States "as the U.S. market becomes more liberalized." eBay's CEO Meg Whitman reported this summer that Skype has asked the FCC to support the openness principles in the upcoming January auction of 700-MHz spectrum.

The 3 Skypephone features a single button that enables users to easily make Skype calls and send instant messages. Lagier said Skype users' address books can be easily viewed on the 3 Skypephone display.

Lagier said Skype worked with Qualcomm over the past year to develop the phone for use with Qualcomm's BREW platform; the phone operates over the UMTS and WCDMA wireless infrastructures, but not over CDMA2000. Looking ahead, that means the service could work on the GSM-based infrastructures of AT&T and T-Mobile, but not on Verizon Wireless or Sprint Nextel.

Lagier also noted that iSkoot, a U.S.-based firm that has worked with Skype in the past, also contributed technology to the operation of the 3 Skypephone. China's AMOI is manufacturing the phone.

Lagier believes the phone will be attractive new users are well as to current 3 subscribers. He said a simple "topping off" for about $20 on the phone can initiate users to the 3 Skypephone. In situations where a subscriber wants to call a non-Skype user, the normal calling charges will apply. The 3 Skypephone won't currently operate with SkypeOut or SkypeIn, features that connect Skype users to non-Skype telephones, typically on the public switched telephone networks.

The 3 Skypephone will be available next month in 3Stores in the U.K., and on Skype and 3 Web sites. Officials at Hutchison Whampoa, 3's owners, have said they expect to sell several hundred thousand 3 Skypephone's by the end of the year. Skype has more than 246 million registered users. eBay recently wrote down more than $1 billion of the valuation of Skype, which it acquired in 2005.

Lagier expects the 3 Skypephone will be a hot seller, not just for individual consumers, but also for small and large businesses, particularly for businesses with major international travel. Lagier said, "It's hard to understand why free won't be popular."

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