Skype has released a test version of a client for Java-enabled mobile devices, a move which the company said is a significant step forward for its mobile strategy. However, at the same time, executives made it clear that the software is preliminary and subject to significant limitations.
With the new client, Skype joins a number of companies, such as Fring and Truphone, attempting to bring internet telephony to the mobile world. Such moves have so far encountered challenges related to the technology and structure of the mobile-phone industry, and Skype's client is no exception, according to the company.
"These are still the early days for making Skype calls on mobile phones, but we've already made great strides in this space," said Gareth O'Loughlin, general manager of mobile and hardware devices at Skype, in a statement.
The client relies on the ordinary cellular infrastructure for certain portions of the call, meaning that users will always pay their usual local or national rate to make calls, according to Skype.
The calls can still be cheaper in some cases, Skype said; for instance, callers can make international calls without paying international rates. Calls to landlines and mobile phones entail additional charges, while calls to Skype clients are charged at ordinary local or national mobile rates, Skype said.
The client can make use of Skype's instant-messaging and presence features, but these entail data charges from the mobile operator. Calls received via the client are charged at SkypeOut rates, Skype said. SkypeOut is Skype's paid service for making calls to landlines and mobile phones.
The test software is available worldwide and supports 50 Java-endabled handsets from Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericsson, Skype said.
The ability to make Skype-to-Skype and SkypeOut calls from the mobile handset is limited to eight markets: Brazil, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong, Poland, Sweden and the UK.
Users in other countries can use chat, group chat, presence and receive Skype and SkypeIn calls. SkypeIn is a service allowing users to rent ordinary telephone numbers, with all calls routed from that number to a Skype account.
Skype said the test period will last several months and will be followed by a public release.
Users can download the software over the air or transfer it to a PC and then to a mobile. The client is available via Skype's website.