Skype for mobile: not entirely VoIP yet—or any time soon

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ARS TECHNICA

http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080428-skype-for-mobile-not-entirely-voip-yet-or-anytime-soon.html

By Jacqui Cheng | Published: April 28, 2008 – 07:55PM CT

Popular VoIP service Skype recently announced that it has begun testing a version of its software for 50 of the most popular mobile phones capable of running Java. The beta software is already available on Skype’s web site and is meant to run on phones from Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson. Don’t get too excited, though—Skype for your mobile is not the real VoIP deal.

The software introduces Skype’s basic features to a broader mobile audience: chat, presence indicators, and the ability to make and receive Skype calls (more on this momentarily). Previously, only users of very specific handsets on UK mobile operator “3” were able to make use of Skype for mobiles, but Skype hopes that by expanding its user base, it can offer users more options for making calls and using different services while on the go. The company said that it plans to carry out this public beta testing for “several months” while taking customer feedback, and it will eventually roll out a final version to “millions of mobile users around the world.”

But don’t go thinking that you’re suddenly free of the old ball and chain known as your cell plan minutes—there are a number of caveats. For one, many users will only be able to receive calls from Skype users and through SkypeIn (the service that lets regular phones call Skype numbers). The ability to make calls to other Skype users and through SkypeOut (the service that lets Skype users call regular phones) is only supported in seven markets: Brazil (Rio de Janeiro), Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Poland, Sweden, and the UK.

That’s not all. Skype for your mobile still uses your carrier’s traditional voice and data networks in order to communicate with the server. This means that, in order to carry out voice calls, Skype still costs you cell minutes in addition to any SkypeIn or SkypeOut fees that may be involved if you choose to use those services. Even for a plain old Skype-to-Skype call, you’re paying the traditional phone call rate in order to contact the server—the only benefit is that you can call a Skype contact instead of just another phone.

The same goes for data use. Doing things like chatting and continually updating your availability status will eat up mobile data bandwidth, and Skype recommends that you subscribe to an unlimited data plan in order to avoid paying out the nose for data charges.

Skype says that the reason for this is to keep the application “lightweight.” It’s so lightweight, in fact, that Skype for your mobile doesn’t actually offer what Skype is known for: making free calls using VoIP. Of course, it’s still nice for the software to finally be available, especially for those who are addicted to Skype for its other features and have built up a buddy list there. But it’s not like it’s hard to find other mobile-compatible IM services, or even “real” VoIP services to use over WiFi (such as Fring). Sadly, we’ll have to wait longer before being able to make true Skype calls with our mobile phones.

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