3's Skype phone is go
Hello? I'm calling via the interweb! Nah, it's rubbish
Mmobile operator 3 finally released full details of its new Skype handset at an event in London today. Early adopters can expect free calls, but no guarantees of reliability.
Skype was brought crashing down in August by a Windows update.
Michael van Swaaij, who stepped in as acting CEO at Skype when founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis took eBay's money and ran at the beginning of this month, was unapologetic about the outage. "Skype is a four-year-old company. That was the first time something like that has happened."
Van Swaaij said if Skype goes down again, 3 subscribers cannot expect to get normal voice minutes in lieu. "Maybe in another four years they will. I don't know," he added.
The 3 Skypephone, built by Chinese manufacturer Amoi, will cost £49.99 on pre-pay and will be free to monthly contract subscribers. Skype calls and instant messenger are free for up to 4,000 minutes talk or 10,000 chat messages per month.
Unlike with 3's X-series phones, users are automatically signed in to internet telephony, which is accessible via one click of the Skype button. The VoIP contact list integrates with the normal phonebook too.
Otherwise, it's a standard cheap 3G handset with a 2 megapixel camera, Bluetooth, web browsing, Java, and 256MB SD memory card. There's no HSDPA, though 3 CEO Kevin Russell said it would be "the next step" for the joint venture. Other features such as a qwerty keyboard are probable too, he added.
The first Skypephone will be available only from Skype online and from 3's own stores from this Friday. Selling through independent retailers will be dependent on the project's success, the operator said.
Russell was predictably bullish, promising to "hit the ground running" and aiming for "hundreds of thousands" of sales.
Other manufacturers were approached when the tie-up was in planning 12 months ago, but 3 said it chose to use a white label maker and Qualcomm's Brew software platform to keep the final price as accessible as possible. The relationship between 3 and Skype is exclusive, but only for "a short time", according to the VoIP firm.
SkypeIn and SkypeOut are not available because of technical difficulties. Russell said the duo would have the kinks ironed out so that users can call and be called by non-Skype phones in the first half of next year.
This handset will not work in the US either. A 3 rep told the Reg that it had missed the deadline for FCC approval. The final software build was only completed three to four weeks ago, he said.
3's expecting average revenue per user to be about the same for Skypephone and non-Skypephone subscribers. It may be instructive to see if it releases those numbers come next financials round. The longer term aim is to reduce churn by offering a service no other operator yet dares to.
The Skype handset could be the first of several internet service-centric handsets for 3, which is very keen on carrying more IP traffic.
Russell took the opportunity to call on his operator rivals to address the challenge of the internet. "Today is another strategic step forward in where we want our business to go," he said. "I haven't heard a clear articulation yet from any [other] incumbent." ®
In late 2004 I bought a 3 Network PAYG phone, a NEC616v.
I soon became aware that any airtime credit (min £10GBP) was expunged from my account after 30 days whether used up or not. This left a rotten taste in my mouth. To me this was similar but greatly worse than having a contract phone.
I had the phone unlocked and was happy to use it with my Orange card.
Such was the nausea I felt, that when, much later, 3 Network became a better option than some other networks, I found that I could not muster an appetite of trust to go back to them.
Now here again, is apparently a similar deal. Pay your money but the Skype using ability is disabled after 30 days until you pay for more credit.
This seems an OK deal if you are a chatterbox. And have a contract. But for those low income users who are cost focused and use Skype to minimise phone expenses, this (pay £10GBP per month for ‘Free’ Skype calls), is a regular drain on resources to be avoided.
A better deal may be to charge some fraction of a pence per minute for Skype calls as long as there is some credit held and to not expunge credit from the account.
@ is this really VoIP?
It depends on your definition of "really VoIP".
The new Skypephone is normal 3G/2G telephony into 3's network. Only once it is there does it get routed via 3's Skype gateway to the Internet as VoIP. So yes, it is VoIP, but not end-to-end. Does it really matter? Because of the way 3 have tariffed this, in a word, "No". Purists may think otherwise - but in the end it is all about being able to talk across the Internet for free. That part of the link remains the normal telephony channel is, in my opinion irrelevant, technically, as long as it is not to the overall detriment of the call.
I was at the product launch and have a pair of these Skypephones. Early indications are that they are no different in voice quality than Skype over a personal computer. But it is a good shift of the Skype paradigm to a 3G handset - the Skype client behaves much as you'd expect it to. Even Presence is carried across and you can control it in the same manner as on a computer.
I have to say that the handset is very intuitive to use. Anyone who can use a mobile phone will be able to use this handset. Anyone who is familiar with Skype will be able to take to this handset in a snap. There are no complexities, no applications to find and load, just a large square "Skype" button on the keypad. Press it once and you're in.
3 and Skype have done well with the integration. Now it is up to the imagination of the buying public to actually subscribe to the idea. It is as cheap as chips and it works.
Way to Go 3!
This is an ideal beginning. About time too. Unlike Vodafone/Orange etc crippling the handset so as not to use VOIP. What a refreshing change .
Hope the call quality is good enough. Wonder where does this put Google mobile (when it comes).