Skype, iSkoot sign mobile phone deal

iSkoot app will allow users to have the same Skype features on a mobile phone as on a PC

Skype will help market an application that will put its contact list and VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) and instant messaging services on high-end mobile phones.

The program, called iSkoot, will allow users to have the same Skype features on a mobile phone as on a PC, said Jacob Guedalia, chief executive officer of iSkoot of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Skype and iSkoot will market the application to mobile operators, who could eventually offer service packages that include iSkoot, Guedalia said. ISkoot would share in that revenue, he said. Handset manufacturers will also be courted to preload iSkoot on devices.

Skype's phone book has become an integral part of some users' lives, Guedalia said. The application allows the "ability to continue to interact with a group of people that you used to have to be sitting in front of a PC to have access to," he said.

The iSkoot interface allows users to see who on their contact list is currently online, and to check their SkypeOut account balance. The user can change their status, such as to "away," which will then be visible to others logged in to Skype at their PCs. The contact list can be refreshed, a feature enabled through the user's data plan, according to iSkoot.

When the software makes a call to a name in the Skype contact list, it first dials a regular voice call to an iSkoot gateway server. The server then transfers the call to Skype's VOIP system. Callers pay for the call to the server from their cellular calling plan. The remaining portion of the call is either free, if it's to a PC, or charged at Skype's SkypeOut rates if to a regular telephone.

For now, the gateway is available in the U.S., and will be available later this month in Europe and Asia, Guedalia said. The company is offering free use of the gateway network for a limited time; eventually, they will charge a flat rate for access, he said.

Some telecommunication companies are "nervous" about mobile VOIP applications, Guedalia said. The fear is that VOIP applications using cellular data connections will take away lucrative circuit-switched voice revenues.

The advantage for carriers is that iSkoot gives them a way to make revenue from VOIP calls, giving them a new service they can bill for, Guedalia said. "We have good traction as we talk to some carriers," Guedalia said.

To receive a call to their Skype ID on their cellphone, users must have remaining SkypeOut credit. Paying to receive calls will come as no surprise to U.S. cellular users, but may be less popular with Europeans. For European cellular users, incoming calls are free within their home country: they only pay to receive calls while roaming abroad.

Guedalia said iSkoot is working to enable the software to eventually accommodate Google's Talk VOIP service.

ISkoot will work on certain Java-enabled phones from Motorola, Nokia, and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications. A list is available at http://www.iskoot.com/products.htm.

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