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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 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.

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