Three to launch Skype phone today

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UPDATED: See below for the details following the announcementskypephone

The finer details of the long-awaited Skype phone announcement from mobile operator Three break this morning, but quite a lot is known already about the deal which the network hopes will revive its flagging fortunes.

The phone will offer free international calls over the handset between Skype users, but won’t allow them to make calls to non-Skype members using Skype out, according to The Sunday Times. Still, Three clearly hopes that by directly attacking the punishing roaming charges of the other operators it will win enough market share to stop a third of its customers leaving every year. Last year the UK arm of Three lost £464m, an ‘improvement’ on the £1.4 billion in 2005. Part of Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa, Three has 4.1m customers but 1m have dumped their SIM cards for other operators.

As predicted, the Three Skype phone will have a specific button above the keypad to activate Skype. It looks like Three will not charge extra for Skype so long as the customer has a contract or tops up their prepay account regularly. The Guardian thinks the the phone will feature a 2MB camera and MP3 player as well as video playback, which is pretty safe predication. And assuming the Skype software operates like a normal PC account, it should be possible to use it to get “pushed” RSS feeds to it using something like Zaptxt. That might be useful… if outside the mainstream market the phone is aimed at.

Three has been offering Skype for a while, on its X-Series range, though the calls are routed via normal cellular lines initially. But it looks like the new handset will place a full VOIP call, which suggests Skype has been very busy boosting the robustness of the mobile software.

Skype is said to have 246m accounts globally, but only about 70m use it regularly, which is in part why owner eBay recently admitted it had overpaid for the business, and wrote off $1.4 billion.

Britain has an estimated 2.5 million Skype users, so in theory if Three can switch a good percentage of those users to its service then it’ll win a bit of market share. A bit. But it’s unlikely to rocket it out of fifth position in the the UK market.

Updated:

As predicted above, the details announced today confirmed that Three and Skype are launching the “Skypephone” this year in the UK, Australia, Austria, Denmark, Hong Kong, Italy, Ireland, Macau and Sweden. Skype to Skype calls
will always be free as long as the caller is on contract or their pay as you go credit is topped up monthly. In the UK, the handset will be £49.99 to buy on a PAYG tariff or free on a contract for a minimum of £12 / month including 100 minutes and texts.

The handset was developed by Skype and 3 in partnership with Qualcomm, using Qualcomm’s BREW platform to enable Skype to work with core handset features such as address book and messaging. The phone appears in stores this Friday and is available for pre-order in the UK from today. You can create a Skype account from the handset.

The 3 Skypephone is light weight, slim and has a decent screen. The user interface is easy to use. Being onthe Three network means the phone is a 3G device and also packs a 2-megapixel camera, mp3 player, streams video and comes in black or white, with blue or pink trim.

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