Skype moves from the desktop into mobile computing - but free?

by Guy Kewney | posted on 08 April 2004

Not everybody has responded with enthusiasm at the news that Skype has gone PDA. At the WLAN Event, reaction was varied, with some pointing out that Skype calls are only free when the hotspot is free; and others claiming that Skype quality is a problem.

Guy Kewney

<1/> Zennstrom at WLAN Event

The new version of Skype was unveiled by founder Niklas Zennstrom at London's Olympia conference centre; and he says it works exactly the same as the old one. You load software onto your own device, and it links up with the other Skype user over the Internet, creates a peer to peer link, and sends digitised voice across it. The difference is that this one works on Microsoft based PDAs - the Pocket PC - not desktop or notebook PCs.

Again, this has caught the imagination in a way that's not easy to explain. For veteran users of instant messaging, the idea of getting "free phone calls" via Skype's peer to peer network will seem old hat: you can plug a headset into any PC running Yahoo Messenger or MSN and so on, and talk to your contacts.

PocketSkype is "a thin version of Skype, developed specifically for PDA devices, making Skype mobile with the same core features of regular Skype software," said the company.

The software can be downloaded from the site, and like PC Skype, is a beta-test version.

The claims made for the software are that it is good quality, and free. At the WLAN Event, consultant Dean Bubley suggested that the quality was not as good as it should be. "It's beta test, and my experience is that I've not been able to keep a voice link going longer than two minutes, and the sound has been variable, with frequent failures," he said.

Motley Fool analyst Dave Mock quoted an interview with Zennstrom: "Say that you're travelings. You just fire it up in your hotel, in Starbucks or wherever, and you can start making and receiving Skype calls completely free of charge" - and took strong issue with the word "free" in the publicity.

"Cool," said Mock. "The only problem is ... who told Mr. Zennstrom that WiFi in Starbucks is free? Much to the chagrin of many wireless geeks (myself included), most venues offering WiFi services charge for access -- and it's anything but cheap. Daily access fees at many hotspots in hotels and cafes run anywhere from $5 to $8. Monthly subscriptions for unlimited use go for $20 and up. And cheaper levies are often contingent on subscribers signing up for additional services."

And of course, the gossip at the WLAN Event focused on where Skype was going, with several informed observers saying that they suspected a plot to create something that Microsoft would buy.

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