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Start-up Skype takes Net telephony to PDAs

The company releases a test version of PocketSkype, aiming to extend peer-to-peer VoIP calls to new devices.

Skype Technologies on Tuesday launched a test version of its Net telephony software for handheld devices.

The new application, called PocketSkype, is designed for PDAs (personal digital assistants) running Microsoft's Pocket PC 2003 operating system and equipped to handle Wi-Fi wireless transmissions.

Devices with PocketSkype would be able to use Internet Protocol technology to make unmetered phone calls worldwide. The Skype software uses peer-to-peer technology to connect users and provides access to a global directory and contact lists.

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Luxembourg-based Skype, a start-up founded by the creators of the Kazaa file-swapping software, last month announced a $19 million investment meant to help it connect customers to the traditional phone network. Currently, customers can only call other desktops and laptops that are connected to the Internet and use the Skype software.

The company said its software has been downloaded 9.5 million times since its launch in August 2003.

"Making Skype available to the PDA market is an important step for Skype to deliver the 'always on' promise, allowing our users to make Skype calls on the road away from the home and office," Skype CEO and co-founder Niklas Zennstrom said in a statement.

The handheld version is the start of Skype's expansion into more devices. The company also is at work on a version of Skype for cell phones and other Internet-enabled devices using the Linux, Palm and Symbian operating systems. Cordless-phone makers are expected to introduce devices that can connect with both Skype users and those on a traditional public telephone network.

Skype recommends that PDAs be equipped with a 400MHz processor to take advantage of all of PocketSkype's features. But only a few manufacturers make PDAs using these higher-speed chips.

PocketSkype is also meant for handhelds that use cell phone standard GPRS (General Packet Radio Service). These devices can't make voice calls but can use an instant-messaging feature that accompanies all versions of Skype.

Established telephone companies, spurred by the advent of companies specializing in voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology and offering low- or no-cost phone calls, also are starting to offer Net calling services. About 11 percent of all voice traffic is classified as VoIP, although less than 1 percent of those calls are initiated on a VoIP phone.