Skype launches free Wi-Fi calls at hotspots

Internet phone provider joins hot-spot operator to offer VoIP calls on the go.

Internet telephony company Skype and wireless broadband operator Broadreach will offer free telephone calls over the Web from laptops and handheld computers at 350 locations in Britain, including major train stations.

"Starting today, wherever there is a ReadytoSurf hotspot, Skype users will enjoy the benefits of their Skype account at no charge whilst away from the home or office," the two companies said in a statement on Thursday.

Skype is a two-year old company based in Luxembourg, which offers free software for laptops and mobile devices to make telephone calls over the public Internet.

Broadreach was founded five years ago and operates public wireless Internet hotspots in Britain.

Although Broadreach charges 3 pounds ($.72) an hour for Internet access over one of its Wi-Fi or Wireless LAN connections, its network will be free for consumers making calls through their Skype account.

Logging onto a Broadreach Wi-Fi network should be automatic when a computer user launches the Skype application, said Broadreach chief and founder Magnus McEwen-King.

Broadreach is also available on Eurostar, Network Rail and Virgin Trains, in hotels from Travelodge, Quality Hotels, Queens Moat House, Scottish Youth Hostels, and stores from Little Chef, Sainsbury's, EAT, BagelFactory and Virgin Megastores.

The announcement comes two weeks after Skype said it would team up with Motorola to preload Skype software in some models that have a separate Wi-Fi radio, alongside the cellular radio.

Wi-Fi radio is a standard feature on most new laptops and handheld computers.

"We want Skype to be ubiquitous. This is part of our strategy to make Skype available wirelessly," said Niklas Zennstrom, Skype's co-founder and chief executive.

The free Skype software has been downloaded more than 78 million times.

The two companies plan to make money on the deal when customers decide they also want more services from the two companies, such as access to the Internet and e-mail, or, in the case of Skype, the capacity to connect to normal phones.

Story Copyright © 2005 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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