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Broadreach Networks, an operator with 350 fixed and Wi-Fi locations in the UK, is offering free network access for Skype users: Skype considers Broadreach its first partner for Skype’s voice over Wi-Fi offering. Skype users could make Skype calls in any hotspot; the key to this announcement is that Broadreach is offering Skype users free access to its networks. It’s unclear if there is a time frame for this deal. If not and if Skype manages to make similar deals with other hotspot operators, this could become a very powerful service. Potentially, Skype customers could ultimately pop into most any hotspot and make calls for free. It would be a great service for customers and could potentially draw business to the hotspot operators because once in a hotspot a customer could decide to buy access to check email or the Internet.
It may be significant that Skype’s first foray into voice over wireless is with a relatively small operator like Broadreach. Other large hotspot operators may have been approached but declined to participate because they have cellular networks or even local phone networks and may be wary of encouraging a free voice service.
Even though cell phone penetration is really high in Europe, calls are quite expensive compared to U.S. cell phone rates. For that reason, I think that some people would be willing to pop into a hotspot to make a free Skype call if a hotspot is reasonably close by.
On a practical note, until more handheld devices are available that can run Skype, I wonder how many people will be interested in making Skype calls from hotspots. Personally, I wouldn’t be terribly comfortable sitting in a public cafe making a phone call using a headset and my laptop.
Posted by nancyg at March 3, 2005 1:12 PM
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