Skype launches mobile VoIP service

Skype Ltd. launched its first mobile voice-over-IP service in collaboration with an operator, 3 Group, whose customers will soon be the first to use it.

3 customers will be able to make free Skype calls to other 3 Skype users and to PC-based Skype users around the world. Customers must subscribe to one of 3’s new monthly data plans to use the service.

3 has not yet revealed the pricing for the plans but says they will include unlimited usage, subject to fair use limitations. For mobile phone users who make lots of international calls, the offering could deliver significant cost savings, depending on the cost of the data subscription.

“It’s now possible for the 136 million Skype users to break from their PCs and use Skype wherever they are,” said Niklas Zennstrom, chief executive officer of Skype, speaking Thursday in London as part of the launch of 3’s new mobile data offering.

The client software on the phone looks just like the client customers use on their PCs, he said. Users can check if their buddies are online and click on a contact to place a call to them.

Premium paid Skype services such as SkypeIn and SkypeOut will become available to mobile customers next year, Zennstrom said. SkypeIn gives customers a phone number that allows landline phone users to call them on their Skype account. SkypeOut offers low rates on calls to regular phones.

Skype already offers a client for Microsoft Pocket PCs and 5 million people have downloaded it. However, those users had to either hunt for a Wi-Fi hotspot or use GPRS (general packet radio service), which could come with potentially high access fees, Zennstrom said. Because the new 3 X-Series service has a flat rate for unlimited usage, people won’t be afraid of potential high costs for using mobile Skype, he said.

The X-Series offering will become available first in the U.K. Dec. 1 and eventually to all other markets in which 3 operates.

A spokesman for a public relations firm that represents Skype said that for now the client will only work on the Nokia N73 phone, one of two phones 3 launched with its new offering.

A 3 spokeswoman did not know whether the Sony Ericsson W950i, the other phone launched with the new 3 service, would also support the Skype offering.

Fans of the Symbian operating system, which runs Nokia’s smartphones, have been eager to see a Skype client built for the platform. In October, Skype promised that the delayed client for Symbian would become available by the end of this year.

Skype made a deal with 3 earlier this year to support the voice-over-IP service for 3 customers using wireless data cards with their PCs. Typically, mobile operators have been reluctant to enable Skype and some have even blocked the service because it can compete with their own voice offerings.

3 Group, owned by Hutchison Whampoa Ltd., has 14 million mobile users in countries including Ireland, Austria, Denmark, Italy, Australia and Hong Kong.

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