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Skype, PDA Maker Ready Dual-Mode Handsets, Free Phoning

Peer-to-peer Internet-phoning company Skype Technologies is teaming up with a PDA manufacturer to introduce a device that will offer users a combination of wireless-calling options, including Wi-Fi, GSM, and GPRS. In many applications, users will be able to make free calls to anywhere in the world.

The PDA maker--i-mate, a unit of Carrier Devices--will formally introduce PDAs with Skype software pre-loaded at next week's GSM World Congress, in Cannes. The two companies said users will be able to use Skype immediately when they use their PDAs for the first time.

Kelly Larabee, spokeswoman for Skype in the U.S., said the PDAs are scheduled to be introduced in the U.S., Europe, and Asia in March. "You get your PDA and you'll be able to use it absolutely free with Wi-Fi," she said.

The handsets, expected to have a retail price of $850, are enabled in dual modes--GSM/GPRS and Wi-Fi--and come with Skype software loaded. Larabee said the two firms have worked for several months to integrate the software with the PDAs. In some circumstances, calls made over GSM and GPRS technology could be free, while others will be subject to small charges.

Skype users can call other Skype users for free, and another service, called SkypeOut, enables users to call to public-switched telephone networks for slightly more than two cents a minute. At any give time, there are said to be more than one million users talking on the Skype service. Skype is headquartered in Luxembourg.

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