Skype launches beta client for mobile

Skype has released a beta version VoIP client that works on about 50 Java-enabled mobile phones from Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericsson.

The beta version is available all over the world and includes chat, group chat, presence, receiving calls from Skype users and through SkypeIn. Other features, which include the making of Skype-to-Skype and SkypeOut calls from the mobile handsets, are initially supported in seven markets: Brazil (Rio de Janeiro), Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Poland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

However, this is not a straightforward VoIP offering, such as those from providers such as Fring and Truphone, which could be troublesome. Skype's client uses the GSM network for the wireless leg of the call, only going to VoIP via the Internet once it hits a Skype gateway - the same technology it uses for 3's Skype service, which by agreement with the operator, allows free calls to other Skype users. That service was launched in the UK last October.

However, Skype has not (and realistically could not) put similar agreements in place with every the other network operators in the world, which means that those using the beta version will be charged the equivalent of a local mobile phone call, both for making and receiving calls: in effect, Skype charges users for calling their mobile phone when they receive a call to their mobile Skype account. Users will also have to pay roaming charges at each of a connection if they are overseas, which is the most expensive part.

So it's progress, but some pundits have dismissed it as being little, late in a turbulent market. Perhaps Skype's long term play is to be the operators' friend by stimulating call volume without gouging their profits.