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VOIP services

Retail Skype Debuts at RadioShack

Skype Technologies SA makes its debut appearance in 3,500 RadioShack stores across the U.S. today, a distribution move aimed at bringing VOIP to a wider set of U.S. broadband users. (See RadioShack Sells Skype Kit.)

The move could broaden Skype's consumer presence even further, following the company's acquisition by eBay Inc. (Nasdaq: EBAY). (See EBay Buys Skype for $2.6B.)

RadioShack is selling a “Skype starter pack,” which consists of a 4-inch-by-4-inch clear plastic sack containing the Skype software, a white plastic ear bud headset with the Skype logo, and a voucher for 30 free minutes of SkypeOut toll service.

The "pack" looks like something one might find in a gumball machine or a box of Count Chocula, but for now it can only be found at the 'Shack. Retail price: $4.99 until Christmas. (See Does VOIP Business Add Up?.) “Calling your friends on Skype is free forever,” the packaging reads. “Calling regular phones is pretty cheap and we have even included 30 free minutes in this pack.” (See Skype Lowers Call Costs.)

Skype hopes its RadioShack offering will be seen as a more tangible introduction to VOIP for those who aren’t in the habit of downloading applications from the Internet. Since Skype's beginnings, the Internet has been the central distribution channel for its softphone.

RadioShack provides a brick-and-mortar distribution channel, and its outlets are everywhere. The Fort Worth, Texas-based chain operates nearly 7,000 stores in the U.S., 100 more in Mexico, and some 700 “wireless kiosks.”

“With 94 percent of the U.S. population living or working within five minutes of a RadioShack, we see them as an ideal partner through which to offer consumers access to Skype accessories,” Skype marketing VP Saul Klein said in a statement.

The vast majority of Skypers use the service to place free PC-to-PC calls to other Skypers over the Internet. The calls never leave the IP domain. This is in sharp contrast to consumer VOIP services like Vonage Holdings Corp. and SunRocket Inc. , which also interconnect fully with the PSTN and seek to duplicate -- and thus replace -- traditional wireline phone service.

Skype officials say 66 million people have registered to use the service since it launched in 2003.

The RadioShack at Market and 3rd streets in San Francisco has seen moderate sales of a Skype-enabled cordless phone made by Linksys, a division of Cisco Systems Inc. The phone hit the racks about 10 days ago and sells for $130, a sales associate told Light Reading.

RadioShack also plans to sell a less expensive Skype-ready VOIP phone for $40.

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

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