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Verizon Wireless has joined forces with Skype to allow select BlackBerry and Android phones to make internet calls across its 3G network starting in March.

On Tuesday, the pair announced new smartphone software called Skype Mobile, which will let US Verizon customers with data plans make free Skype-to-Skype calls across the globe. It will also allow international calls to any phone at Skype's standard rates.

Skype's always-on smartphone app will also allow users to send and receive instant messages and see their contacts' online status, the company said.

The move is an abrupt about-face for Verizon. Previously, it did not allow customers to make internet calls over its network. Verizon's decision follows AT&T's decision to allow VoIP-over-3G calls. AT&T is the exclusively wireless provider for the Apple iPhone, and VoIP began hitting Steve Jobs's handheld status symbol at the end of January.

Under the Verizon deal, Skype Mobile will initially be available on BlackBerry's Storm 9530, Storm2 9550, Curve 8330, Curve 8530, 8830 World Edition, and Tour 9630. The service will also debut for Motorola's Android OS-based Droid and Devour, plus HTC's Droid Eris. It will be made available for the nine phones in late March and will come pre-installed in new handsets.

The app was jointly developed by Verizon and Skype and will be available exclusively in the US.

Verizon said additional details on their plans with the Skype Mobile app will be served at the CTIA tradeshow in March. ®

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