Skype today announced a partnership with Nokia, still the largest cell phone maker in the world, to put the the company's Internet calling software onto its phones.
Nokia will initially offer Skype on its high-end smartphones, the N-series, and the N97, Nokia's flagship device that will go on sale in June, will be the first to have the software embedded, beginning in the third quarter of 2009.
Skype will be integrated into the N97 address book, enabling users to see when Skype contacts are online. It will also let people use Skype's instant-messaging client. Most importantly, N97 users will be able to make free and low-cost phone calls over the Internet, whether they are on a 3G cellular network or a Wi-Fi network.
(Skype-to-Skype voice calls are free; SkypeOut to landlines and mobile devices offers low rates.)
Yesterday, Sony Ericsson also announced it would be offering a Skype "panel" on the Windows Mobile Xperia1 device.
Of course, Skype on smartphones is a no-brainer benefit for people who travel internationally or have overseas contacts. International rates have remained high, despite drops in domestic calling prices.
Skype and other VoIP services offer users a more cost-effective alternative to expensive "International" plans. Skype on a mobile phone, when accessed on a low-cost data network, could help people who travel frequently or make lots of international calls save tons of money.
The two mobile phone manufacturers Skype has announced as partners here are manufacturers that are struggling to get their high-end smartphones on American mobile networks.
But it's a bit of a tightrope-walking exercise: Adding Skype won't do much to convince these operators to subsidize their devices for the American market because wide-scale deployment of Skype on phones could cannibalize providers' international voice services and potentially hurt their domestic voice service.
So if by chance, Nokia or Sony Ericsson manages to win approval from a U.S. operator to get these phones on their networks, the Skype feature may be stripped from the U.S. version of the device.
On the other hand, AT&T is allowing some voice over IP applications to appear on Apple's iPhone App Store. And Skype users are able to make free and low-cost calls through applications, such as Truphone. But for now, AT&T and Apple seem hesitant to allow Skype's powerful brand, which has more than 400 million registered users, to make it onto the iPhone.