If you're looking for ways to cut costs on your long distance, small business calls, you might consider Skype, a VoIP service that lets you make phone calls over the Internet.
Skype has sold some hardware at its Web site mostly accessories such as computer telephone headsets from Plantronics Inc., and Radio Shack displays Skype kiosks with a handful of accessories in some of its retail stores and a Skype Starter Pack that includes an inexpensive headset and a bundle of Skype Out minutes. This has all mainly been a sideline, but that's all about to change as new hardware developed specifically for Skype hits the retails shelves even products for small businesses with 10-to-300 employees.
One of the most compelling new products is Netgear's Skype Wi-Fi Phone, a cell phone-size handset that comes preloaded with Skype software and lets you make and take Skype calls on any Wi-Fi network, even at hotspots. The phone's LCD displays a version of the familiar Skype's interface. Customers navigate menus using a mini joystick or key in SkypeOut numbers or speed-dial on the standard telephone number pad. The product will be available in March.
Actiontec.com offers two new products. The VoSky Call Center is an extension of the earlier Internet Phone Wizard. Customers can connect any standard phone to the phone jack, but can also connect the Call Center to a PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) line. This lets them switch between PSTN and Skype calls using the same phone set. They can also call in to the VoSKY Call Center when away from home, including from a cell phone, and place Skype calls using the Call Center's speech interface.
Actiontec claims its VoSKY Exchange is the first Skype-certified PBX add-on product. Designed for businesses with 10-to-300 employees, it connects to a PBX system and enables any phone extension in the office to make and receive Skype calls without having to make any other changes to the PBX. "Amazingly enough, a huge base of Skype customers are not consumers but businesses," notes Bhow. "We do all our conference calls with China, for example, using Skype. Other [Skype] solutions are popping up for business conferencing."
Creative Technology recently introduced the Creative Skype Internet PhonePLUS. It connects to a broadband router via an Ethernet cable and lets you make and take Skype calls without having a computer on, or even having a computer at all. The product features a 2.5-inch color screen for displaying the Skype interface and five-way navigation buttons for menu browsing and setup.
Panasonic Communications Co. offers dual-mode Skype/PSTN cordless phones. D-Link, a consumer networking equipment vendor, now has a Skype USB phone adapter that allows consumers to use existing corded or cordless phones for Skype calling.
Auvi Technologies LLC, a two-year-old company previously known mainly for OEM consumer electronics products, has a line of nine products, some introduced late last year, some available in April, some in June. They include the Auvi PHIP100 VoIP-enabled cordless speakerphone with Web cam. The other Auvi Skype products include adapters for using standard phones for Skype and computer-controlled handsets.
The Auvi products use the headset and microphone ports on a PC's sound card, unlike most Skype products, which use USB. This offers a couple of advantages, says Kelly Peterson, the company's vice president of business development. One is that it keeps price points low.
"It also gives us control of the sound card," Peterson says. "So if you're listening to music and you lift up the phone to make or take a Skype call, we can automatically turn off the music. When you put the phone down, the music comes back on. But the biggest advantage is that once we add a PSTN capability in future products, you'll be able to transfer a Skype call to a PSTN line or conference Skype and PSTN calls."
Auvi's new Skype products are also available in versions that can be customized for use with commercial VoIP services.
Currently, there are over 85 million Skype customers worldwide (over 200 million have downloaded the software). The user base is growing at more than 100,000 a day, and there are 3.5 to 4 million active users at any time.
One factor will be getting the new Skype products into stores. Both Gunjan Bhow, vice president of marketing and product management at Actiontec Electronics Inc. and Kelly Peterson say their products will be in major retail outlets in the US within weeks or a few months at most.
Other big retailers besides Radio Shack are in talks with Skype about establishing relationships. Bhow says a couple of companies are close to signing deals. A Best Buy spokesperson confirmed the company is talking to Skype, but said it won't make any decisions on which products to carry until it has an agreement in place.
The fact that new Skype hardware products showing up on retail shelves is certainly an indicator that service and the brand are entering the mainstream, but their presence at the local Best Buy or Circuit City is also sure to raise awareness of Skype. Consumers may never pay for long distance calls again.
Adapted from voipplanet.com.
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