Skype and mobile phone group 3 will launch a 3G mobile phone in Australia in December, which will allow Skype users to make free Internet calls to each other while on the move.
The new Skypephone.
The companies said today the new 3 Skypephone could also send free Skype instant messages, and that they hoped to sell "several hundred thousand" units worldwide in the fourth quarter of this year.
In the UK, the phone will be available at the end of this week for the equivalent of about AU$120. Locally, the 3 Skypephone will be AU$179 for prepaid customers or free on any cap or Talk Business plan, and come with 4,000 minutes of free Skype to Skype calls and 10,000 free Skype chat messages each month. Customers can also make use of free call time to other 3 customers as part of their cap, plan or prepaid top up.
"That doesn't come as much of a surprise," said Nick Ingelbrecht, research director at analyst firm Gartner.
"Phones arrive a little bit later here than they do in other markets, it's just related to buying power, but in this case it also happens to coincide with seasonal factors," he said.
The phone is being launched in nine markets including Australia, Britain and Italy, with a rollout into other countries under consideration.
"We are optimistic that if you look at one or two years, [we will sell] millions rather than hundreds of thousands, but in the fourth quarter (2007) we are looking at several hundred thousand worldwide," Frank Sixt, finance director of 3-owner Hutchison Whampoa, told reporters.
Sixt said the phone's non-Skype tariffs were the same as on its other phones, with call minutes and texts priced the same way, and the phone will have a special Skype button.
"In terms of the technology there's nothing particularly new about it," said Ingelbrecht.
"What is new is that a carrier has provided something like this as a preconfigured device and has begun marketing it quite aggressively," he said.
Ingelbrecht suggested that the Skypephone may be a step towards making VoIP technology more accessible to those without a technical background.
"Skype is now truly mobile. This new handset lets you make free mobile Skype calls when you are on the move to other Skype users all over the world," Skype acting CEO Michael van Swaaij said in a statement.
He added on a conference call that he expected the launch to boost the group's 246 million-strong registered user base, as the service was now available to people without computers.
"We think there will be significant interest from those who aren't on Skype as it is so easy to set up. You don't have to have a laptop," he added.
According to Ingelbrecht the introduction of the Skypephone may eventually lead to a reduction in call costs as VoIP mobile calls put further downward pressure on cellular voice call margins -- he compared it to the introduction of pre-paid mobile caps a few years ago.
"If you look forward about 10 years ... a significant amount of traffic will be over VoIP," said Ingelbrecht.
Skype was bought by EBay for up to US$4.3 billion in 2005 as the online auction site gambled on the fast-growing popularity of the Web-based call service, although it wrote down US$1.2 billion from the value at the start of this month.