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Internet telephony firm Skype is partnering with Wi-Fi hotspot provider Broadreach Networks to offer free net telephone calls. The deal, which launched Thursday 3 March, will allow Skype users to make free Skype calls in 350 ReadytoSurf fixed and Wi-Fi wireless Internet locations across the UK.

Broadreach hopes that after making free Voice over Wi-Fi calls consumers will be more likely to pay to check their email or surf the web at its hot spots. Broadreach's network of internet locations include brands such as Virgin Megastores, Eurostar, Travelodge, Little Chef, Virgin Trains, EAT , Choice Hotels and Quality Inn and major railway stations including all the London terminals. It has 110,000 registered customers.

Niklas Zennström, Skype chief executive and co-founder, said Skype users would not need to log onto Broadreach's network before making calls. "It's a burden to log on. We want to make it work so the service is available right out of the pocket," he said.

Broadreach is the first hotspot operator to offer the Skype service for free and is Skype’s launch partner in the UK. Skype hopes similar deals will be forged elsewhere in Europe to extend the ability of Skype's 28 million users to make calls whilst on the move.

Free Skype features include instant messaging with group chat, conference calling and file transfer. Skype also offers SkypeOut, a pre-paid service that allows calls to landline and mobile numbers worldwide at low calling rates. Skype calls are encrypted to guard against eavesdropping.

Broadreach chief exec and founder Magnus McEwen-King explained that the company had designed its networks from the outset with the idea that it would offer VoIP services at some point. A demo of the service revealed in London's Paddington train station revealed decent sound quality was available. "Quality of service is not an issue," said McEwen-King. ®

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