One of the best deals on the Internet -- free Skype to Skype calling -- may be coming to an end albeit slowly and quietly. Skype has launched a new, improved version of its VoIP calling software for Apple's iPhone and the service between Skype users on AT&T's network is slated to carry a charge beginning next year.
Wi-Fi calls will remain free between Skype callers, but a new as-yet-undisclosed charge will be leveled at Skype iPhone users beginning in 2011.
AT&T, which has the exclusive rights to market the iPhone in the United States, has found its wireless network overburdened by iPhone users who have flocked to the iPhone's applications. Free Skype calls would likely clog up the AT&T network even more. iPhone users have been clamoring for Skype and they will likely be pleased with the VoIP's new service features announced over the weekend.
Skype said its new iPhone 2.0 service will offer "CD-quality sound" for Skype to Skype calls on their iPhone 3GS or second and third generation iPod touches. The new offering also includes a call quality indicator that suggests the best time to call.
"Using Skype on 3G has been the number one request among our iPhone customers," said Russ Shaw, general manager for Skype Mobile in a statement. "Using Skype on iPhone without being restricted to the availability of a Wi-Fi network will open up new ways for Skype customers to stay connected and make free or low-cost calls whenever they want, wherever they are in the world."
To date, Skype hasn't released an Android client for its calling service and free Skype-to-Skype calling on Android phones would give the Google platform an important leg up on Apple's iPhone. However, if Android phone providers follow the iPhone/AT&T lead and charge for Skype-to-Skype calls, it could signify an important sea change in VoIP technology. Charging for Skype-to-Skype calls, too, could open up opportunities for other wireless VoIP providers to boost their market presence by offering free VoIP calls.
Many observers thought Skype made a mistake by not charging even a small fee from its beginning. After eBay acquired Skype four years ago, it quickly found it couldn't make money on the acquisition and wrote off most of the multibillion dollar acquisition price. eBay subsequently spun off Skype and it currently is a standalone business.
Some public interest groups including Free Press had complained to the FCC that the restricted Skype application on the iPhone was a violation of Net neutrality standards. Previously, Free Press had complained in a letter to the Federal Communication Commission that the "Skype voice over IP application on the Apple iPhone can make and receive calls over a Wi-Fi connection, but cannot make or receive calls over AT&T's 3G network."