Skype intros new Wi-Fi phones

Skype announced three new Wi-Fi phones that will allow people to talk over the Internet for free. Photos: New Skype phones

Internet phone provider Skype is expanding its Wi-Fi calling options with the launch of three new wireless phones that will have the Skype Internet calling software embedded.

On Thursday Skype announced it will sell new Wi-Fi phones from Belkin, EdgeCore and SMC on its Web site. Skype announced in January at the Consumer Electronics trade show in Las Vegas a deal with Netgear to sell its Wi-Fi phones.

The new phones, along with the Netgear phone, which hasn't yet shipped, will be available this quarter, according to a Skype representative.

The phones come preloaded with Skype software for free Internet calls, allowing Skype users to make calls without being tethered to their PCs. The handsets will automatically synchronize to a Skype account and its contacts, and operate when in range of a Wi-Fi hot spot.

Skype is targeting a market that analysts predict will grow rapidly as more Wi-Fi networks pop up in homes and in public areas in cities throughout the country. According to a recent Infonetics Research report, the Wi-Fi phone market increased 116 percent between 2004 and 2005 to $125.5 million. It's projected to more than double in 2006 as enterprises and consumers deploy local area networks for voice over wireless service.

The business market is likely to drive early adoption, the report said. But as voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service is bundled with broadband connections, consumer voice over Wi-Fi is expected to grow.

"Single-mode Wi-Fi VoIP handsets continue to penetrate the enterprise market," said Richard Webb, a wireless analyst with Infonetics Research. "And with D-Link, Linksys and Netgear all launching products, we expect increasing adoption in the consumer market, too."

But Webb believes the real growth in Wi-Fi phones will come from handsets that switch between Wi-Fi and cellular networks.

"With the increased activity from both fixed and mobile operators to deliver dual-mode services to the mass market, often as part of a more far-reaching fixed-mobile convergence strategy, the long-term forecast for dual-mode Wi-Fi/cellular handsets is strong, assuming these handsets come down in price to sub-100 dollars or euros," he said.

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