Home & Office

Skype revisits Rabbit with free Wi-Fi deal

Broadreach and Skype have teamed up to offer free VoIP at Wi-Fi hot spots. Just don't shuffle in your seat
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

Broadreach, which operates wired and wireless public access networks around the UK, has agreed to allow free access to Skype's voice-over-IP service.

The deal, announced on Monday, means that Skype subscribers will be able to access the service at any of Broadreach's ReadyToSurf hot spots without having to pay to log on to the Internet.

Magnus McEwen-King, Broadreach chief executive, asked rhetorically: "If you're going to make a voice call, why pay to access the Internet?"

Skype allows free VoIP calls to other Skype users, or cheap calls to mobiles and fixed lines. It is one of the big successes of the past few years, and its software has been downloaded by 28 million people worldwide.

Coverage will be limited. Unlike mobile phone networks, which offer virtually blanket coverage over the UK, Broadreach only operates 350 fixed and wireless hotspots.

McEwen-King said these locations are easy to find because Broadreach has deals with major retail brands such as Virgin Megastore, Travelodge and Network Rail. But a mobile user would only be able to receive a Skype call if they happened to be logged on to the service at a Broadreach hotspot at the time when someone tried to contact them.

Back in 1992, before GSM networks were widely available, Hutchison launched a phone service called Rabbit. It failed because the service could only be accessed from locations where a Rabbit phone "telepoint" had been installed, and because it only allowed outgoing calls.

Skype founder Niklas Zennström insisted that the Broadreach agreement offered advantages over a deal with a mobile phone operator.

"This offers free calls over Wi-Fi, rather than paying to use a mobile," said Zennström.

It is also unclear what level of quality of service Skype users will get over Wi-Fi, as customers will have to share the available bandwidth with other Broadreach customers. McEwen-King and Zennström conducted a telephone interview in using the Skype over Wi-Fi service, and the call quality was occasionally poor. McEwen-King, though, said this noise interference was caused by him "shuffling around" in his chair. Other journalists have reported acceptable sound quality during their phone interviews.

Editorial standards