Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Skype, a provider of free Net phone services, on Thursday released its first software for personal digital assistants, making good on an earlier promise to expand the range of devices that can use the company's technology.
The software lets users of Microsoft Pocket PC 2003 handhelds make free unlimited Skype calls over Wi-Fi networks, which are typically available in homes, offices, parks, transportation hubs, hotels, shops and restaurants.
While only about a third of all Pocket PCs have Wi-Fi connections, Skype's popularity could spur more sales of the pricy handhelds, said Chris Shipley, executive producer of DEMOmobile 2004, a wireless trade show in Los Angeles where the new Skype software was unveiled.
"Skype is creating significant demand for mobile and other new-generation WiFi-enabled devices," Shipley said in a statement.
A test version of the PDA software debuted in April. Until that point, Skype's free software had been available only for personal computers.
Skype uses voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), a technology for making phone calls over the Internet rather than the heavily regulated and taxed traditional phone network. Calls placed through Skype are free, but calling is limited only to those using the service, and users must make calls via computers rather than phones.
Other services, such as AT&T's CallVantage and Vonage, let customers make calls to any phone in North America, but these services aren't free. Skype has set its sights on this niche also; last month the company launched its SkypeOut service, which lets customers make VoIP calls using phones for a per-minute charge.
Of providers of free VoIP software, Skype is among the largest, with an estimated 500,000 users. The largest commercial VoIP service is Vonage, which has about 200,000 subscribers.