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Skype Hypes New Deals For Hardware, Software

Skype, the eBay-owned PC VoIP service, broadened its efforts to unseat traditional landline telephony with a new version of its calling software, new hardware from third-party manufacturers, and new partnerships to enhance its PC calling features.

Skype 2.5, released in beta, builds out the program’s ability to call non-Skype users. The new version streamlines the process of payment for consumers using the SkypeIn or SkypeOut calling features. SkypeIn gives users a phone number accessible to landlines and mobiles, and SkypeOut lets users dial from the PC to landlines and mobiles.

Skype 2.5 also offers drop-down menus for international dialing (rather than typing in the country codes) and the ability to send one-way SMS messages from within the program.

Another new 2.5 feature is the ability to host conferences of up to 100 participants. Using Skype, a host can invite, mute or eject Skypecast participants and create Web links to a conference.

VoIP equipment maker SOYO jumped into the “Skype ecosystem” with the introduction of the U201 IP USB Skype-certified handset, whose keypad and LCD can be used to manage Skype calls. The handset supports personalized ring tones, caller ID, SkypeOut, call history and more.

The handset also features a headset jack, mute button and hands-free speakerphone and is compatible with PCs running Windows 2000 and XP.

Computer peripheral maker IOGEAR announced its own VoIP calling kit for Skype users. The kit, which works exclusively with Skype but is not Skype-certified, includes a dial pad, microphone, headset and two audio ports. The dial pad plugs into a USB port and features six USB ports to serve as a hub.

Using the audio ports, users can send audio from the computer to headphones or external speakers for conference calls. The kit is shipping at a suggested $69.95.

Skype also announced a deal with three music publishing companies to offer licensed musical ringtones for Skype users.

For Skype’s business users, the firm partnered with call center and interactive voice response (IVR) service to integrate the latter’s speech-enabled IVR service with Skype calling. The deal would allow business users to integrate Skype and functions onto Web sites so that, for example, frequently asked questions can be asked verbally over a PC using a microphone.