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June 22, 2005

Skype To Offer Free Long-Distance Cell-Phone Calls

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A Norwegian company has developed bridging technology that links cell phones with Skype Technologies' VoIP service in a configuration that enables users to make worldwide calls at local rates.

The solution, developed by Oslo's IPdrum, is scheduled for early deployment in August, the firm said. IPdrum added that its IPdrum Mobile Cable solution has not been endorsed by Skype.

"You need two GSM phones and SIM cards," said IPdrum spokeswoman Karen Romer in an interview. 'It's so simple. It's scary." She added that IPdrum's CEO Kjetil Mathisen has been in discussions with Skype executives about the service, which IPdrum regards as complementary to Skype and not competitive.

The IPdrum product features hardware in the form of a cable that attaches to most popular cell phone brands on one end, and to a USB connection on a PC on the other end. Software is also included. The IPdrum Mobile Cable is expected to retail for between $60 and $80 when it is available in mid-August on IPdrum's Web site, and in retail stores in Scandinavia.

To make a call from a roaming cell phone, users must dial into another cell phone that is attached to a PC. The IPdrum Mobile Cable then prompts users to indicate the desired number to call. "If the caller chooses a Skype ID, the GSM call is forwarded directly to that Skype user," IPDrum's instructions state. "If the call is to someone without Skype, the user chooses the mobile or fixed telephone number."

Calls to non-Skype subscribers will be charged SkypeOut's long distance charge--about 2.4 cents a minute. Calls to Skype subscribers are free, although callers will have to factor in the charge of a second cell phone and SIM card.

"You basically call yourself at your home or office," said Romer. She added that the IPdrum Mobile Cable operates with Windows 2000 and higher operating systems; additional operating systems will be added later. The product will initially be compatible with mobile phones manufactured by Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, Siemens, and Sony.

Jerry Pettersson, IPdrum's founder, said his firm's product could force mobile phone service providers "to re-think their international calling price strategy." Mathisen indicated the solution could be developed for other peer-to-peer VoIP providers.

It was not immediately clear whether the IPdrum service can function in networks other than GSM, the mobile network popular in Europe. Some U.S. cell phone service providers including T-Mobile use GSM technology.

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