Skype Makes More Partnerships

By Greg Scoblete & Doug Olenick On Jan 16 2006 - 8:00am




VoIP service provider Skype, the Luxembourg-based company now owned by eBay, announced several new high-profile product partnerships at International CES, here, with Netgear, Philips, Panasonic and Kodak. Dozens of other companies introduced handsets, adapters and other products designed to call over the company's 60 million user strong peer-to-peer network.

Netgear announced the first Wi-Fi handset to work with Skype's service. The Wi-Fi phone can send and receive Skype calls over free hotspots and displays Skype contacts on its screen. Netgear CEO Patrick Lo said the company was working on partnerships before the products roll out to enable the handset to work on networks that require authentication. Pricing was not announced.

Philips announced its first DECT-based Skype handset, the VoIP321, due in the United States in July. The phone can place Skype and PSTN calls. The handset displays Skype contacts and features unique polyphonic ring tones to distinguish between Skype and landline calls.

At its booth, Panasonic showed dealers a Skype-enabled handset that can place calls over both the PC and the PSTN network, said Frank Lasorsa, communications division product and marketing VP, Panasonic. The company will evaluate dealer response before it decides whether to launch the product, Lasorsa added.

Networking vendor D-Link announced a $69.99 suggested USB phone adapter (DPH-50U) that allows consumers to use their existing home phones with Skype's service. The adapter lets users take incoming Skype calls during a landline call, or vice versa, and cross-conference Skype and PSTN calls. The DPH-50U features a lighted display to indicate whether an incoming call is from a traditional telephone or from a Skype user.

Included software helps users configure the service so they can use a home phone to make Skype calls by assigning speed dial numbers to Skype contacts.

USRobotics introduced a USB Internet speakerphone (USR9610), which ships this month for a suggested $49.99.

Bluetooth equipment manufacturer Cellink announced a Bluetooth handset (BTHP-620) for sending and receiving Skype calls to a Bluetooth-enabled PC (the unit ships with a USB Bluetooth adapter). The handset features a keypad and OLED screen, along with dedicated buttons to control Skype calling including connect, hang up, volume, hands free, contacts, volume, dialing and scrolling.

The integrated battery features talktimes of up to 8.5 hours and a standby time of up to 240 hours. The unit, available in March for a suggested $129, will also work with other PC-based VoIP applications from Yahoo!, AOL and others. It will distributed and marketed by the Lexy Pacific Corp.

Skype did not confine itself to handsets. Kodak announced a plan to incorporate the service into its EasyShare Gallery photo Web site. Kodak Photo Voice will allow two people to simultaneously view a customized slideshow and carry on a voice conversation. Users must download the Kodak application and Skype, then select photos from a Gallery album or from their computer, compile them into a Photo Voice presentation and place a call to another Skype user.

At present, Skype is still concerned with driving up its user base of free callers, said business development VP James Bilefield. The company earns revenue only when users sign up for SkypeIn or SkypeOut, which gives consumers the ability to receive or send landline/cellular calls.

While the company has wider retail distribution in Europe, 2006 should see the company piggyback into a wide array of U.S. retail stores thanks to its bevy of new hardware partnerships, Bilefield said.

Since it cannot place emergency calls, it is not billed as a landline replacement, like Vonage, but a complement to a landline, Bilefield said.

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