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Skype to charge iPhone users for 3G network calls

June 2, 2010 |  8:08 pm

Iphone-caller  

IPhone users should be advised to save their nickels and dimes.

Alongside the announcement that AT&T will cap its data plans -- finally bringing its Internet offerings more in line with the guessing game that is the cellphone calling plan -- Skype says it intends to charge iPhone users for calls made over AT&T's 3G network later this year.

Skype said it has no plans to charge Verizon Wireless' smart-phone customers to get the same feature.

Skype has traveled a long road in bringing an application to the iPhone that allows calling over AT&T's wireless network. AT&T, the nation's second-biggest telecom did not allow voice-over IP transmissions until it changed its policy in October.

For its part, Apple didn’t accept VoIP apps for its online marketplace until this year, and it wasn’t until this week that Apple approved a new version of the Skype app, Skype spokeswoman Jennifer Caukin said. In three days, it was downloaded 5 million times. The previous version, which allowed calls only when the phone was connected to Wi-Fi, was downloaded 12 million times in the 14 months it was available.

Caukin wouldn't specify how much a 3G call might cost or when exactly the fees would kick in. It's free now, and she asserted that calls made on a Wi-Fi connection would remain free.

But a company spokesman also said in July 2009 that Skype-to-Skype calls (those made between people signed in to their accounts rather than to landlines or cellphones) "are always free, forever." Forever is a long time.

"We've thought long and hard about this for a while," Caukin said on the phone Wednesday. "It's the first time that we've monetized our mobile products in such a way."

Skype calling on the iPhone is fantastic. The app will be even more handy when Apple's update to the iPhone operating system hits (expected next month), which will allow you to do other tasks on the phone while making a call. Skype claims CD-quality sound, and in fact, calls sound much better than using the phone's actual telephone function.

But the same is true for Skype on Verizon phones, which, according to Caukin, will remain free. So why then are iPhone customers expected to pay up while users of Google's Android phones on Verizon won't?

Caukin said Skype would be affordable and in line with the value it provides to iPhone users. (Which made us wonder: Does it therefore provide no value to Verizon customers?) Skype has been looking for additional revenue sources as usage increases and since eBay sold its stake in the company in November.

When asked if AT&T would split the VoIP fees with Skype, Caukin declined to comment. An AT&T spokeswoman deflected questions about Skype fees.

-- Mark Milian
twitter.com/markmilian

Photo: Darryl Bush / McClatchy Tribune

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