Netgear debuts long-awaited Wi-Fi phone

New wireless handset joins growing rank of communication devices that leverage Skype's Internet telephony service.

SINGAPORE--Networking products maker Netgear said it is finally ready to bring its Skype-compatible Internet telephony device to local shores, ending months of wait.

The Santa Clara-based company announced in a press release last week that it had increased local shipments of its new SPH101 Wi-Fi phone, a mobile device that enables users to chat for free using Skype's popular voice over IP (VoIP) service over a wireless network.

First unveiled by Netgear in January, the SPH101 joins the steadily growing ranks of hybrid devices with built-in Skype support, as more manufacturers compete for a slice of Skype's sizeable Internet telephony market.

Retailing at S$349 (US$226), the handset will come preloaded with Skype software, allowing users to make voice calls without being tethered to their computers.

Vincent Low, Netgear's regional director for Southeast Asia, said: "'Skypers' are now able to take advantage of Netgear's wireless networking technology, and experience Skype in a truly mobile fashion, without a PC."

Skype--an eBay subsidiary--allows its 113 million users to call each other over the Internet for free. The company also offers its SkypeOut service, which lets users converse with people on traditional cellular and landline networks for a nominal fee.

A SPH101 owner will have to be within range of a wireless network in order to initiate a call with the Netgear device. The handset runs over encrypted Wi-Fi networks, as long as a user has the proper network ID, but it will not work on paid Wi-Fi systems that require browser-based authentication, such as those offered at some bookstores and cafes.

The device also does not support networks operating on the niche IEEE 802.11a wireless standard, and only runs on 802.11b and 802.11g connections, according to Netgear.

The company says it will be launching the SPH101 Wi-Fi phone to several countries within the Asia-Pacific region, with Malaysia and Thailand on the shipment list. Netgear also intends to add multiple language support to the phone later this year.

Farihan Bahrin is a freelance IT writer based in Singapore.