Low-cost telephony using the Internet protocol just got a big shot in the arm.
Thanks to a partnership announced during a call-in conference this morning, jointly hosted by the CEOs of Wi-Fi hotspot service provider Boingo Wireless and VoIP service provider Skype, customers will now be able to easily place calls using Wi-Fi Internet connections at Boingo facilities all over the world.
No longer will VoIP callers be tied to wired phones. According to Boingo CEO David Hagan, the new service is "aimed at the growing number mobile customers that use non-traditional, Wi-Fi-enabled devices to make callsbeginning with laptop computers, but also including hand-held pocket PCs, PDAs, ,multi-mode smartphones, and perhaps soon MP3 players and the like." "I've been using Skype for calling all over the worldfor over a year," Hagan added. "It's amazing!"
Dubbed 'Skype ZonesPowered by Boingo,' the service, is currently available as a beta offering at a cost of $7.95 per month for unlimited service, or $2.95 for a single two-hour session. (Terms may change, according to a Boingo press release.)
"Boingo is a world-class company that offers Skype users unprecedented global communications mobility and accessibility, at an aggressive, market disrupting price," said Niklas Zennström, Skype CEO and co-founder. "Affordable broadband access is fundamental to open communications, and partnering with Boingo to deliver unlimited Skype access around the world at such a compelling price point will generate new customers for both companies."
The software that will drive Skype Zones essentially combines the Boingo packagewhich includes a Wi-Fi 'sniffer (for locating Wi-Fi signals), connection management, and roaming authenticationwith Skype, which in addition to managing IP calling, provides a global user directory, presence management, and instant messaging. Once the Boingo software completes the log-on, it automatically launches Skype, and the user is ready to talk.
Zennström pointed out that all existing Skype options will be available through Skype Zones: "Peer-to-peer calling, SkypeOut [which connects to non-Skype users via the PSTN], SkypeIn [which establishes a local number in the location of the user's choice for incoming calls], voicemail, as well as any future premium services."
This initial release of the software is on the Windows platform only. "Availability on a wide variety of platforms is part of what has made Skype so successful," said Zennström, suggesting that other platforms are coming. There is no announced timetable for the release other platforms, however.
Speculating about the size of the Skype Zones voice over Wi-Fi market and its potential impact on competing mobile phone services, Hagan observed, "Most of the public places where you now make cell phone callscafes, coffee shops, airports, train stationswill soon be equipped with Wi-Fi. It's a huge market!" Zennström added, "When you're getting a month of service on Skype Zones what you'd pay for a single overseas call on the cellular network, it's not hard to choose."
An estimated 45 million people have downloaded the Skype software to date. Boingo claims 18.000 hotspot locations worldwide.