Skype, Netgear collaborate on Wi-Fi phone

At last week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Skype and Netgear announced they are working on a family of products, including the world's first Skype wireless mobile telephone and a router equipped to optimize Skype.

Netgear's Skype Wi-Fi phone will work when connected to a wireless Internet access point. Skype users can make free domestic and international calls, as well as host conference calls and chat, with other Skype users anywhere in the world, and can connect to non-Skype users with SkypeOut for off-net calls for a fee. With this device, headphones or USB phones plugged into a laptop or PC are not required.

According to the companies, "The Netgear phone is pre-loaded with Skype's software, ready out-of-the-box to use with a wireless network. All a user needs to do after turning on the phone is enter a Skype username and password. The Skype software pulls up the user's full contact list, displays the connection status on the phone screen, and allows the consumer to connect to any other Skype user for free.

Netgear also announced that its RangeMax wireless router would be equipped to optimize Skype calls in a Wi-Fi environment.

In a prepared statement, Patrick Lo, Netgear's chairman and CEO said, "We're extremely proud to deliver the world's first mobile phone enabling customers to enjoy all the benefits of Skype. Moreover, Skype integration with our RangeMax wireless router will further extend our leadership in innovative networking devices."

More information on the phone, including pricing and availability is scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2006.

Our take on the various Skype centric products:

1. Skype's service, while not a replacement for the public switched phone network (PSTN) remains a disruptive technology, and a serious threat to overpriced long-distance rates.

2. By embracing Skype's approach Netgear, Panasonic, DLink, VTech, IPEVO, Kodak and others have joined in the convergence parade, realizing more than the niche opportunity presented by Skype.

3. Although Wi-Fi phones are not new, combining a Wi-Fi phone with a peer-to-peer VoIP service certainly is noteworthy, and when offered with Skype's value-added services (like click-to-talk and photo sharing) the convergence market continues to evolve beyond plain old wireline and wireless voice connectivity.

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