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European wireless ISP The Cloud has added its Wi-Fi hotspots in the UK and Sweden to Skype's fledgling aggregated network, Skype Zones.

Well, sort of. In fact, many of the sites are already there, courtesy of the 18,000-hotspot deal US-based aggregator Boingo last week signed up to. The Cloud agreed to provide Boingo users with access to its growing network back in October 2003.

Skype Zones currently lists 4,734 compatible hotspots in the UK, of which a good proportion are maintained by The Cloud, a quick comparison of the two location databases reveals. The Cloud maintains some 6,000-odd sites in the UK and Sweden, and all of these will soon be tied into the Skype Zones network, the WISP said. The Swedish sites are not currently listed by Skype Zones.

A company spokesman said The Cloud's Skype tie-in was a "completely separate deal that has been a long time in the making". It offers "unique" features, including a free hour's access to VoIP-only users - ie. folk who don't surf the web or check email too.

"Users with the Skype Zones client will be able to use it in the UK, but will only get the value added services above in The Cloud hotspots," he added.

The standard Skype offering provides two hours' Wi-Fi access for €2.50/$2.95, or you can get unlimited access for €6.50/$7.95 a month. The service, while open to the public, is currently in test mode, and Skype warns that the price may change once the service is given a formal commercial launch.

Skype itself is available on a variety of platforms, including Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and PocketPC. The beta version of Skype Zones is Windows only.

In March, UK public Internet access provider Broadreach began offering Skype calls via its network of 350 ReadyToSurf hotspot locations. Unlike Boingo, Broadreach doesn't charge for the privilege.

Contrary to our earlier report, a Cloud spokesman said the service does include standard Internet access as well as Skype's usual VoIP service. So it's significantly cheaper than dealing with the network direct. The Cloud's prestigious British Library hotspot, for example, costs £9 (€13/$16) for two hours' access - more than five times the Skype Zones' price. Skype will undoubtedly have negotiated an advantageous rate based on its brand strength and the number of users its expects to bring to WISPs' hotspots, but Skype Zones' pricing clearly shows the kind of margins European WISPs ®

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