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Skype thrives amid tough economy

The Internet telephony provider may be one of the only technology companies experiencing a boom as the economy tanks.

LAS VEGAS--The sinking economy has actually been a good thing for Internet telephony service Skype.

Scott Durchslag, the company's chief operating officer, told reporters during a press conference here at the Consumer Electronics Show that Skype is actually seeing a surge in new users as people look for ways to cut their phone bills.

"We are seeing consumer take-up of Skype accelerating because people feel they can get value and quality without making a huge trade off," he said. "And we're seeing a whole new opportunity in the business market, as companies that I'd never have thought would be a target for Skype are pro-actively coming to us and asking for a solution."

Skype, which is owned by eBay, offers downloadable software that allows people to make free calls to other Skype users and low-cost calls to cell phones and regular phones. The service also offers free video chat. The company boasts it now has over 370 million registered users. It's been adding about 30 million subscribers a quarter, Durchslag said. And these users are making lots of phones calls. Today, about 8 percent of the world's voice minutes originate from a Skype call, he said.

All told, Durchslag said Skype has been growing about 50 percent compared to the previous year in almost every metric from minutes used to new subscribers to revenues. He also said the company just had its seventh straight quarter of profitability.

All this is happening while other technology companies are hunkering down for a long, dark recession. Meanwhile, Skype is looking to expand its services and address new markets. In particular, the company sees opportunity to develop special services for the business market, offer more video , and expand its presence on mobile phones.

As part of this effort, the company announced here that an enhanced version of its software Skype 4.0, which drastically improves the quality of voice and video, will finally come out of beta in February. It also announced it will be offering its Skype software for mobile devices preloaded on Google Android phones along with about 100 Java-enabled handsets, including some sold in the U.S.

Sadly, Skype is still not available for Apple's iPhone, but Durchslag said an iPhone version will be available in the App Store, someday. But exactly when is still up in the air.

"We have to make sure the call quality is there and the application works really well before we can announce the software for any device," he said in an interview after the press conference. "But we will have something for the iPhone as soon as it's perfect."