3 announces unlimited Skype calls and other goodies

Today 3 announced it will provide users with a new plan called X-Series that will do away with pay-as-you-surf mobile Internet and bring unlimited Web browsing to your phone

Hutchison, more commonly known as 3 in the UK, today announced a partnership with Skype, Sling Media, Yahoo, Nokia, Google, eBay, Microsoft, Orb and Sony Ericsson. The idea is to bring all of these services on to your mobile for a flat rate fee -- it's been dubbed 'X-Series'.

According to the hype, you'll get free Skype-to-Skype calls to any PC or other X-Series user worldwide, be able to search on Google and Yahoo, send MSN instant messages to your friends, watch your TV from a Slingbox, access your computer at home with Orb and buy or sell stuff on eBay.

So far the only thing getting between the majority of consumers and the mobile Internet has been the cost of accessing online content and the limitations of certain sites on certain handsets. 3 says it is going to eradicate these problems by charging a set fee and making sure that its handsets support the content properly. The first handsets to be sold on the X-Series plan will be the Nokia N73 and the Sony Ericsson W950i Walkman phone.

Researchers at IDC say that 1.3 billion people will connect to the Internet via mobile phones by 2008, and a recent study by Informa Telecoms and Media and the Mobile Entertainment Forum estimated that mobile user-generated content will be worth $13.2bn by 2011. As most of the speakers at this morning's presentation pointed out, the traditional mobile strategy of charging people per megabyte is like using dial-up, whereas a flat-rate plan will give users the freedom to do much more.

This isn't the first time we've seen a flat-rate plan go into action, though. T-Mobile also started its Web'n'Walk plan this year, charging users £7.50 for unlimited mobile Internet use. The main difference between these two services, though, is that 3 is planning to offer a better overall package, with more preinstalled applications than T-Mobile. The X-Series service will be available in December.

Some sceptics have pointed out that these services will not work properly over a 3G connection or using the proposed handsets, but we tested it out without any major problems. It will be interesting to see if it works as well when hundreds of people are using Skype over 3G in the same cell, but we'll have to wait until Christmas to find out.

The people in the photograph might look like a normal bunch of suits but they could be behind one of the most significant mobile content deals ever. From left to right is Christian Salbaing, managing director of European telecommunications for Hutchison in Europe, standing next to Frank Sixt, group finance director for Hutchison Whampoa Limited.

Then there's Blake Krikorian, chief executive and co-founder of Sling Media, Canning Fok Kin-ning, group managing director of Hutchison Whampoa Limited, Miles Flint, president of Sony Ericsson and Sharon Baylay, general manager of Microsoft Online Services Group, UK.

Finally, Dr Kai Öistämö, executive vice president and general manager of mobile phones for Nokia, Niklas Zennström, chief executive and co-founder of Skype, Scott Monson, general manager for Orb Europe and David Thévenon, head of wireless partnerships EMEA for Google.

Also there but not in the picture was Dominique Vidal, regional vice-president and managing director of Yahoo Europe. Meg Whitman, chief executive of eBay and Terry Semel, chief executive of Yahoo, made appearances, too, via pre-recorded videos. -AL

Correction: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect spelling of the company name Hutchison Whampoa Limited. CNET.co.uk regrets the error.

 

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