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Skype, Boingo team on mobile services

Hot spot provider Boingo Wireless slashes prices for users of Skype's Internet telephony.

Wireless hot spot operator Boingo Wireless on Tuesday began offering dramatic discounts to users of Skype, an Internet telephony operator with tens of millions of users.

Boingo, founded by EarthLink creator Sky Dayton, makes available Wi-Fi technology to dispense high-speed Internet access. It's currently used in about 18,000 locations. Skype is among the most popular providers of voice over Internet Protocol software for making inexpensive or free phone calls using the Internet.

Starting Tuesday, Skype users can now get unlimited access to Skype services within Boingo hot spots for $8 a month, or $3 for a two-hour connection. While use of the hot spots is restricted to Skype-only services, from Boingo's perspective it's a significant discount. Boingo typically charges $22 a month for unlimited use of its hot spots for any kind of Internet activity.

"We believe affordable broadband access is fundamental" to advance Internet telephony, said Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom.

The Skype-Boingo offering, for now, is only for devices using Microsoft's Windows operating system.

"Partnering with Skype demonstrates the evolution of public-access Wi-Fi to include VoIP," said Boingo President David Hagan. "Voice has always been the killer app, but it's moving away from traditional networks."

The deal underscores the collision course of Net-based phoning and Wi-Fi, the popular wireless standard used to distribute broadband inside thousands of homes, retail outlets, restaurants and cafes, and some public areas. Typically, VoIP subscribers use a wired phone line, whether a single home phone or any number of phones in an office setting. But many service providers see an opportunity to create wireless versions of their services using Wi-Fi. Introducing the appropriate VoIP services and technology could turn hot spots into giant phone booths.

While this is Skype's first deal with Boingo, the hot spot aggregator is no stranger to VoIP. Earlier this year, Boingo and New Jersey-based Vonage, among the world's largest commercial VoIP operators, agreed to co-market each other's services. Boingo said it is working with handset makers to integrate its software into Wi-Fi-ready phones.