Skype PDA Softphone Ties Wi-Fi, VoIP For Free Calls

A new way to merge two disruptive technologies--Internet phoning and Wi-Fi--was introduced Tuesday, in the form of mobile-PDA software from Skype Technologies. Called PocketSkype, the free software enables users of

April 6, 2004

2 Min Read
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A new way to merge two disruptive technologies--Internet phoning and Wi-Fi--was introduced Tuesday, in the form of mobile-PDA software from Skype Technologies. Called PocketSkype, the free software enables users of Microsoft PocketPC-based handhelds to connect to Wi-Fi access points to make free VoIP calls.

"PocketSkype is essentially the same core as our desktop software," said Niklas Zeenstrom, CEO and co-founder of the Stockholm-based Skype, in an interview. "The user interface is different."

PDA manufacturers have noted the possibilities of taking advantage of VoIP and Wi-Fi technologies in one simple hardware package, and some firms have even begun manufacturing such devices. However, there has been a gap--no enabling software. Zeenstrom said he created PocketSkype to fill that gap.

While both technologies are still in their infancy, there is nevertheless something of a rush--by start-ups and established companies, alike--to implement Wi-Fi and VoIP quickly. Wi-Fi hotspots are rapidly proliferating, some of which are free to users. What is particularly intriguing is the notion that a user could go to a free Wi-Fi hotspot, log on to a broadband Wi-Fi connection, and make a free VoIP telephone call.

However, it's not quite so simple. Skype users can only make free VoIP calls to other Skype users who have downloaded the firm's software from the Skype Web site. Users typically must also use headphones with the service.Zeenstrom said the current rendering of PocketSkype is a beta version--an indication it will be updated later. He added that the PDA version has the same core features as the established desktop version, which include instant messaging, directory access, contact lists, and free worldwide calling.

Zeenstrom indicated he believes this mobile market will develop gradually, because, for one thing, not many PDAs are yet equipped with Wi-Fi capability. However, there is a new generation of PDAs coming later this spring, some of which will be fitted with Intel's powerful new 530-MHz Xscale processor running on a new improved version of Microsoft's mobile OS. Many of these will be equipped with Wi-Fi capability. When Wi-Fi isn't included in a new PDA, it can be added relatively easily and inexpensively with a Wi-Fi-equipped SD card.

What about the new generation of cell phones equipped with Wi-Fi?

"That's an interesting target for us," said Zeenstrom. "We think cell phones with Wi-Fi will complement Skype."

Skype has competitors-SIPphone, Monday, announced a new VoIP service with Singapore Telecommunications, for instance--but with almost 10 million downloads of its free software, Skype is pulling ahead in the free VoIP race. Zeenstrom said 4.5 million users have registered. On a typical day nearly 300,000 Skype users may be online at any given time.Looking to the future, Zeenstrom said Skype software will continue to be free. The company plans to announce commercial products later this year. Some advanced features will carry a charge, and there will be charges to connect calls to global public-switched telephone networks, he said.

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