Optical/IP Networks

Skype 3.0: Why Email When You Can Call?

eBay Inc. (Nasdaq: EBAY) division Skype Ltd. announced Wednesday that it is beta-testing the third version of its VOIP software, and this version brings Web surfing and phone calls one step closer. (See Skype Unveils Beta 3.0.)

Skype says its Skype 3.0 client provides a click-to-call option on any phone number listed on any Web page, similar to the way email software automatically launches and prepares a message when an email address is clicked. (See Report: Click-to-Talk is Risky.)

The new click-to-call function can dial any phone number, and connects via the publicly-switched telephone network (PSTN) using SkypeOut, Skype's pay-per-minute calling service. The owner of the Web page containing the phone number doesn’t need to inject any special coding to make the feature work, Skype says. (See Google, EBay Team .)

Skype says it's not an advertising program, so the owner doesn’t pay Skype when someone clicks the phone number. Click-to-call also works on numbers within searches and Yellow-Pages-like listings, Skype spokeswoman Jennifer Caukin says.

The new click-to-call feature might increase overall Skype usage, if it causes some users to dial a number when they normally wouldn’t. And if that number requires a hop over the PSTN to connect, the call becomes a SkypeOut call for which a toll is charged.

SkypeOut is free to numbers in the U.S. and Canada through the end of this year. Skype says it will announce soon whether or not the deal will be extended into 2007.

Caukin says the new feature is more about creating convenience for users than about increasing revenues. "Instead of having to write down a phone number on a piece of paper, it's all about just one click, and you are making a call right away." She says before 3.0, users typically copied phone numbers from their browsers and then pasted them into their Skype client to make a call.

VOIP analyst Jon Arnold of J. Arnold and Associates says the new feature will be an incremental improvement to Skype. "Skype has always been about ease of use. By taking out those two or three extra steps it might be enough to keep people on your page -- then that's good," he says.

As Skype is in direct competition with very large, deep-pocketed IM/VOIP platform competitors like Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), the pressure's on to make Skype easier to use, Arnold says. "It's easy to get new users but it's harder to keep them."

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

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