Skype's new upfront North America calling plan: a stage in a broader strategy

To be formally unveiled today, Skype's new upfront, $29.95 a year Unlimited Calling subscription plan ($14.

To be formally unveiled today, Skype's new upfront, $29.95 a year Unlimited Calling subscription plan ($14.95 for signups by January 31)for calls within the U.S. and Canada is a milepost in Skype's move to be a major Internet phone provider within North America- as opposed to predominantly an international calling service.

It's also a major shot across the bow at U.S.-based VoIP and PSTN competitors. I'm talking the whole lot- IM-based softphone rivals, ATA-based pure plays such as Vonage and SunRocket- and even the traditional phone companies.

And with Skype getting heavier into alternate telephony hardware channels- such as ATA partnerships of their own abd its Beta Skype 2.2 client for Smartphones- Skype is making moves clearly intended to grow past its headset/softphone roots to a service that is omnicompetitive with pretty much any other consumer-oriented phone service and platform you can think of.

But why a year in advance, rather than in drips and drabs of $10 Skype credits? 

Obviously, the impetus for this move is the realization that if customers can pay ahead, the elimination of the former requirement that they fork over $10 ahead for an average 2.1 cents a minute of SkypeOut time takes away what I call "the meter is running" specter away from Skype calls.

And, well duh, Skype gets a lump of cash up front. And even the $14.95 annual rate charged if users sign up in advance by January 31 represents a pretty significant chunk of change.

The real income potential, is the potential for new Skype customers to urge the people they call to sign up as well so that those people can call them and others. Not for Skype-to-Skype calls- which are already free, of course, but for other calling requirements.

If even modestly successful, that's more SkypeIn minutes sold to existing customers and more yearly plans sold to new customers. 

While an eye-opener, though, I can't see Unlimited Calling as anything but a transition to worldwide free dialup for a set price per year. 

I believe that by this time next year, if not sooner, Skype will offer a range of tiered plans, tied to an annual fee and a series of free monthly international minutes allotments. Example: $59.95 a year, up front, for 1000 minutes of free world dialing a month.


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