Skype on Four VoWi-Fi Phones

by Eric Griffith

UPDATED: The phone software will support calls over the Internet without a computer or PDA, using handsets made by Belkin, Netgear and others.

Skype's software for making phone calls over the Internet has migrated from the computer to the mobile PDA and — after several months of teasing — now to Wi-Fi-only VoIP handsets. Anyone with an open/available 802.11b/g network at home or in the office, or at a hotspot (if open), can make a call using the Skype interface built into the phones. Calls are free to other Skype users, or for a few cents per minute to land-lines, varying depending upon the location.

There are four handsets officially endorsed by the company in today's announcement.

skype-netgear.jpgNetgear's Wi-Fi Phone for Skype (model SPH101, left) was actually announced back in January, and then went on pre-order status with Amazon.com a couple of months ago. At the time it was officially announced by Netgear, the price was listed as $250 MSPR. It is now listed for sale on Skype's Web site for a full $300. Amazon now lists it as unavailable. Security support covers WEP, WPA and WPA2 with pre-shared key (PSK).

Belkin Phone The Belkin Wi-Fi Phone (model F1PP000GN-SK, right) comes in black and has a price of $190 on the Skype site [Belkin issued a correction after initial price misprint-- MSRP is indeed $190]. Amazon has it listed at $180. Both sites list it as a pre-order, for release on August 31.  The Belkin supports WEP, WPA and WPA2 encryption. It was first hinted at in early June of this year. Belkin says it will sell in Asia, Europe and Australia sometime in the third quarter.

SMC's model SWKP100 was announced with a price of $200 MSRP and is available now in North America and Europe. Like the Netgear, the phone promises three hours of talk time, and it charges when connected to a computer's USB port.

Edge-Core phoneEdge-Core, a division of Accton in Taiwan, will run Skype on its model WM4201 (right). It won't be available until the end of July at best. The only prices found online so far say it will cost 199 euros, indicating it will be limited to European markets. WPA and WPA2 are supported. They'll also sell a specially designed Wireless Cradle Access Point (WA4101-CAP), which provides access and also serves as a charger for the handset. An Accton Skype handset was hinted at by blogs like Engadget as far back as November 2005.

The announcement also specifies that the phone cannot be used for emergency calling, which is likely the case for all of them. None of these are dual-mode phones — they only support Voice over Wi-Fi, and don't work with any kind of cellular/2G/3G networks.

Why are the prices so disparate? A Skype spokesman couldn't say for sure, but said that factors include differences in screen resolutions and calling features.

A Skype wireless phone from Asustek was  shown at CeBIT 2006 in March of this year, but is not part of this announcement. Last month, Philips Electronics said it would have a Skype phone (VOIP321) -- though that phone is cordless, not necessarily Wi-Fi.

Other Wi-Fi handsets from vendors like UTStarcom, D-Link and Linksys will do much the same, but without Skype — they require the user to have a subscription with a SIP-based VoIP provider like PsipTN (in the case of D-Link).

Skype recently bundled its PC software with SanDisk's Cruzer Micro and Cruzer Titanium USB Flash drives so Skype users can take their account with them to any PC. Skype is now a division of eBay.

This article was originally published on Friday Jul 21st 2006