Mobile VoIP: Verizon to Offer Unlimited Skype Calls on Network

Unlimited Skype calls for 3G smartphone owners using Verizon's network begins in March.

Verizon Wireless and mobile VoIP company Skype today at Mobile World Congress presented details of a joint venture that will bring a custom-designed Skype mobile app to smartphones on the nation's No. 1 carrier by March.

Initially, the exclusive mobile app will be available on Verizon's 3G smartphones, including the BlackBerry Storm and Storm2, the Curve 8330 and 8530 and Tour 9630 handsets, along with the carrier's Android-powered phones, the Droid, Eris and Devour.

The app, simply dubbed "Skype Mobile," is being offered to Verizon customers with data plans and will allow them to make and receive Skype-to-Skype voice calls both in the U.S. and abroad through Verizon's wireless network. Basically, calling costs are in line with what a user experiences on the PC. If calling within the Skype community, it's free, and if calling a landline Skype's standard rates apply. Skype Mobile will also let them place international calls using Skype's calling rates under the "Skype Out" plan. Another feature of the mobile app provides the ability to send and receive instant messages among Skype users.

One of the most noteworthy features of Skype Mobile, however, is the always-on connectivity and ability to identify when friends are online, which means callers won't have to pre-arrange phone calls or go through several steps on their smartphone to initiate a call.

"Because the app is running simultaneously, you don't have to go on a fishing expedition to find out if another Skype user is around, or arrange a call at 7 with a family member...there's no invoking the app to get into a dialer, you're able to make and receive calls in a very natural flow," John Stratton, CMO at Verizon Wireless, said during a press conference.

Skype-Verizon Mobile VoIP Venture Unprecedented

The news of the joint venture stirred up significant curiosity in the wireless industry, as the two companies have been at odds over the past on major issues facing the sector, such as Net neutrality and whether or not wireless operators should be allowed to discriminate over what types of data is transmitted on their networks.

Also, carriers have traditionally been reluctant to embrace VoIP services or to allow Internet calls to run on their networks, fearing it would erode their voice revenues.

This nuance was not dismissed by the speakers at the event, with Stratton telling the media that the collaboration between the two firms, which appeared to be foes in the headlines, has been "hiding in plain sight."

"When we did the press advisory, we got a bit of mail on this, people were wondering what the heck it was about, thinking it must be a misprint. We were joking that it's hard to keep anything a secret in this industry, and I think this was leaked about 12 times, but no one believed it, we were hiding in plain sight. We've been working collaboratively for a year," said Stratton.

Josh Silverman, Skype chief, said the alliance allowed the two firms to create an application that seamlessly integrates with Verizon handsets. "When you partner with an operator, you can do things around battery life, voice quality, integration, so it's seamless, which is what we wanted," he said during the conference call.

Though Stratton and Silverman declined to disclose any financial details of the newly forged relationship, they said the partnership is mutually beneficial because, in part, Verizon can expand its potential subscriber base by offering a compelling reason to purchase a Verizon handset and to sign up for a data plan.

"The value prop is that we have 90 million customers who have in-calling, and now it expands to 580 million Skype users. Our customers can now call anyone in the world without using minutes. If you buy a smartphone and download a free app, you are good to go," said Stratton.

For its part, Skype can continue its push into mobile.

"Sure, we're going to make money, but we don't disclose specifics," said Silverman. "But untethering Skype from the PC is great for our customers. People want the same experience on the device that fits in their pocket, I've stopped calling them smartphones because they're coming pocket-sized PCs. So, we've partnered in way that we've integrated the experience on the mobile PC to be similar to what you get on a desktop, which is what we wanted to accomplish for our customers."

TAGS:

Verizon, mobile apps, VoIP, Skype, mobile voip

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