'

Verizon launches Skype mobile, payment service

Verizon Wireless and Skype are launching a smartphone service that allows Skype-to-Skype mobile calls over the Verizon network.

Special Report: CTIA Wireless

Verizon and Skype announced a partnership at CTIA Wireless in Las Vegas today, unveiling Skype mobile for nine Verizon Wireless 3G Blackberry and Android smartphones. The service will go live on Thursday.

The service will use the Verizon Wireless voice network for the wireless connection of the Skype-to-Skype calls. The service will allow users to make and receive unlimited Skype-to-Skype voice calls to any Skype contact, send and receive unlimited instant messages to Skype users, manage Skype contact list from the mobile app, and place international calls at Skype's rates.

The app will run in the background, which means those who are both Verizon smartphone users and Skype customers can use the smartphone as a full-time Skype device.

updated: What's really interesting about this deal is the way those calls are routed. These aren't VoIP calls - these are voice calls. Google Voice, for the sake of comparison, utilizes the data network to initiate its calls from a mobile device but then transmits the voice signal over the voice networks - and Verizon counts those voice calls against the pool of minutes on the plan.

That's not the case with the Skype app. It's a voice call over the voice network - but doesn't go against the subscriber's voice minutes. Essentially what's happened here is that Verizon is giving away the voice minutes for a Skype call. But why?

Well, for one, giving up voice minutes is a no-brainer for Verizon. With all the texting and data usage going on these days, voice as a source of revenue is slowly dying. At the same time, as other carriers become more competitive with their unlimited plans, customers are inclined to jump ship to if they feel there's a better value elsewhere.

The companies already know that Skype users - especially those using it to place low-rate international calls - tend to be chatty. They also know that mobile users can be chatty, as well. With all the money they can potentially save by chatting more while freeing themselves from PC experience and over to the mobile side, Verizon shows its subscribers that a switch to a competitor may not be the best value move.

So this is about reducing churn? Well, yeah, kind of.

The service will be available on six Blackberrys - the Storm, Storm2, Curve 8330, Curve 8530, 8830 World Edition and the Tour. It will also be available on the Motorola Droid, Droid Eris and Motorola Devour, which will become available on Thursday.

Beyond those devices, the company explained that the core technology is ready for new Blackberry and Android devices as they're released. Likewise, the feature could be coming for other operating systems, as well, but the company said it prioritized its partnerships where it could get "the most bang for the buck." Asked about opening the service to other features, notably video, the companies declined comment, saying that they're focused on voice for now.

The Skype mobile experience is exclusive to Verizon Wireless but the companies were quick to note that there are other Skype types of applications out there. Features like always-on are exclusive to Verizon.

In separate news,  Verizon also announced that it plans to launch the BilltoMobile payment system in the coming months, which will enable Verizon Wireless customers to charge some online purchases of "online content and digital goods" to their Verizon Wireless bills.

The payment service will be limited to $25 per month and will include parental controls.