By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
The eBay-owned PC VoIP company Skype made a series of hardware announcements earlier this month, expanding its line of Philips, Panasonic and Netgear phones.
Skype will slip loose from the PC thanks to a pair of Skype-certified DECT cordless phones from Netgear and Philips. They will be the first Skype products that allow consumers to use the free calling service without having the PC turned on.
Instead, the phones' base station will be loaded with Skype software and will connect directly to a broadband modem.
Existing Skype cordless phones have to be connected to a PC, which in turn must be powered on and running Skype to work.
The new products offer functionality similar to other standalone VoIP products like Vonage, but Skype will continue to market its service as an adjunct to a computer and not a landline replacement, said Manrique Brenes, Skype hardware business development director. Both the Philips and Netgear phones can also connect to land lines.
Both the Philips VOIP841 and Netgear's cordless phone for Skype will be shipping for the holidays with retail prices in the range of $150, Brenes said.
For existing Skype users, contacts can be downloaded into the phones and integrated with land-line contacts. Color displays on the handsets show Skype contacts and the handsets also feature speakerphones. The phones also support SkypeIn for receiving land-line or mobile calls, SkypeOut for placing Skype calls to land lines or mobiles and Skype Voicemail.
Panasonic also broadened its commitment to Skype, announcing last week that it would develop a Wi-Fi phone for use with the service. The Wi-Fi phone will support SkypeIn/Out and traditional Skype calling from home or office hot spots. The phone will also support Skype Voicemail and call forwarding.
No model name or pricing was announced but Panasonic said the unit would likely ship in the fourth quarter.
Panasonic has expanded its lineup of Skype offerings since it first committed to the PC VoIP technology at International CES this year. The company recently introduced a USB adapter (KX-TGA575S) which connects several of the company's 5.8GHz digital expandable phones (the KX-TG5761S, 5771S, and 5776S) to a PC. Once connected, the phones can handle both Skype and traditional land-line telephony.
Panasonic announced a Skype-enabled cordless phone at CES, the KX-TG9000, but has not yet shipped it to dealers.
PC peripheral maker Keyspan also introduced a PC cordless phone for use with Skype. The $79 unit features a base station that connects to a PC via USB and uses 2.4GHz technology to communicate with the handset. The handset can activate a Skype call and display online contacts. It also supports caller ID and speed dial for SkypeIn/Out phone numbers.
The unit's battery offers 15 hours of talk time and 1,200 hours of standby time. It is shipping immediately. It is currently undergoing the Skype certification process.
Skype currently boasts 113 million users worldwide. While many landline replacement services look to retail to activate new subscribers, Skype sees retail as a way to outfit existing users — most of which use the service for free — with new capabilities, Brenes said.
Through the end of the year, Skype has waived fees for its SkypeOut feature, enabling users to dial any number in the United States and Canada (from the U.S. and Canada) for free.
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