CES - Accton may beat Netgear with first Wi-Fi VOIP phone

Taiwan's Accton Technologies may beat Netgear to market with the world's first Wi-Fi handset aimed at Skype and other VOIP users.

Taiwan's Accton Technology plans to launch two wireless handsets by the middle of February that allow users to place calls over the Internet at little or no cost using Wi-Fi, potentially beating U.S. rival Netgear to market with the first Wi-Fi phones designed for VOIP (voice over Internet protocol).

Wi-Fi handsets put a new twist on Internet phone calling by freeing users from having to carry around a notebook PC in order to make a VOIP call. Existing phones designed for Skype and other VOIP services must be connected to a computer. Accton's phones don't have to be, although they do require a Wi-Fi signal, which isn't always readily available.

Both of the Accton handsets allow users to make calls wherever they're connected to a wireless Internet access point, whether they're at home, at a coffee shop or some other public Wi-Fi hotspot.

One of them, the VM1185T WiFy SkyFone, comes with a built-in version of Skype's popular Internet calling software. Accton's other phone, the VM1188T VoWi-Fi, isn't designed for Skype but will also allow users to place Internet phone calls using Wi-Fi.

The handsets will cost around US$100 to US$150 each, said Alan Ma, a sales manager for Accton Technology, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The company plans to market the phones in the U.S. and Europe first, followed by Asia, he said.

Both phones work with the 802.11b/g Wi-Fi standards and boast 4 hours of talk time before needing a recharge, or 80 hours of standby time, according to Accton. The company plans to offer a recharge cradle for the handsets that doubles as a Wi-Fi access point.

Accton's handsets could beat out a similar Wi-Fi phone coming from Netgear. During CES, Netgear and Skype jointly announced a Wi-Fi phone designed with Skype software built in. A Netgear representative at the electronics show said pricing information was not yet available, and gave a general availability timeframe of sometime before the end of the first quarter.

Users of Skype's popular software can make free domestic and international voice calls, as well as chat and hold conference calls with other Skype users anywhere in the world. Calls to regular phones require a small fee.

Last September, popular Internet auction Web site eBay agreed to pay US$2.6 billion to acquire Skype Technologies SA in a deal the companies billed as a way for Skype to expand the number of its users.

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