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Skype signs up first 3G mobile partner

Net telephony company announces deal with German mobile operator E-Plus, as more Europeans latch onto VoIP.

Net telephony company Skype announced it has signed a deal with its first mobile operator.

The company has agreed to a partnership with German mobile operator E-Plus, which will offer its customers free use of Skype's voice over IP (VoIP) service as part of its flat-rate data subscription package for 3G (third-generation) data card users.

Under the terms of the deal, announced Thursday, Skype will continue as E-Plus' exclusive VoIP supplier. Skype has already garnered 2.8 million users in Germany and will now gain access to some of E-Plus' 9.8 million customers.

No details were released on how many E-Plus customers are currently using Skype. The subscription will be available to customers throughout Germany for a flat rate of 39.95 euros ($50.08).

Amrish Kacker, a senior consultant at research firm Analysys, said the move into the mobile market is not as significant for Skype as it may first appear.

"To get into the mainstream, it needs to be part of the (data) packages that work on a per (megabyte) basis--not everyone is going to want to spend ?39.95," he said. "But once you get down to that level, you open up more complexities--you have to pay for the data used to transmit the voice call."

Skype also hinted that it plans to venture further into the mobile territory. Skype CEO Niklas Zennstrom said the VoIP provider has its eyes on a more global mobile strategy. "We look forward to working with other innovative mobile operators around the world," he said in a statement.

The company is already working with mobile handset manufacturers, including Motorola, to develop Skype-enabled devices.

A recent study from analyst firm Evalueserve predicted that Skype will have a significant impact on the world of European telecom companies.

According to the study, the per-minute charging methods used by both fixed and mobile operators will put them at risk of losing customers. Evalueserve predicted operators can expect a drop in revenue between 5 percent and 10 percent by 2008, primarily due to Skype.

Jo Best of reported from London.