Skype 'Solutions' Proliferate

This week brought at least three additions to the rapidly growing group of appliances designed to make Skype calling easier, more flexible, etc.

By Ted Stevenson | Posted Apr 7, 2006
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Bluetooth headset lets Skypsters wander while they talk.
Pittsburgh-based Cardo Systems used this week's Las Vegas CTIA show as a launching pad for a VoIP-enabled version of one of its established products—the scala-500 Bluetooth mobile phone headset. Accompanying the ear-worn device in its scala-500 VoIP incarnation is a slender USB plug-in—the VoIP Adapter—that looks like a modest size flash drive.

According to the vendor's specs, the VoIP Adapter communicates with Skype's Windows 2000/XP client, allowing the user to place, answer, and otherwise manage VoIP calls from distances up to 30 feet away from the laptop or desktop computer.

Control of the device—and of the Skype client—is through voice commands. In addition to Call and Disconnect Call, the command language allows address book searches, and the ability to minimize or maximize the Skype window. Voice commands are also used to control volume level.

Since the VoIP-related technology is all in the VoIP Adapter, the scala-500 communicates with a mobile phone in the same manner as the non-VoIP version, thus doing double duty.

The headset employs a Bluetooth version 1.2 chipset. It weighs in at less than half an ounce, offering more than seven hours of talk time and roughly a week of standby time. It recharges in two to three hours.

No pricing information was made available for the VoIP-enhanced product, but checking online vendors, the scala-500 by itself seems to sell for between $60 and $80.

USB device makes Skype calling more businesslike.
Irvine, Calif.-based IOGEAR, Inc. this week announced its USB VoIP Skype Calling Kit, which it is aiming at "SOHO users, switching from traditional landlines to Internet-based phone services," according to IOGEAR vice president of marketing, Miranda Su.

The unit, which appears to be about four by six inches, sports a dialpad, two audio outputs, two MIC inputs, and six USB 2.0 ports. The device in turn plugs into a USB port on the computer.

In addition to allowing familiar key-tapping style dialing, the Skype Calling unit provides a mute button and volume controls. Audio switching allows output to be directed to a headset or to external speakers—and, presumably, the dual MIC inputs allow the connection of an omnidirectional microphone. And herein lies the most obvious rationale for this device (in our humble opinion): transforming a PC into an effective conference phone.

The six USB 2.0 ports facilitate connecting additional peripherals—scanners, other phones, external storage devices, etc.—to the PC. The 480 Mbps transfer speed of USB 2.0 is forty times faster than USB 1.1, but the unit is backwards compatible with that technology.

The MSRP for the USB VoIP Skype Calling Kit is just under $70.

Java-based app brings Skype functionality to smartphone users.
Another CTIA announcement this week came from Vancouver, BC-based EQO Communications: immediate availability of EQO Mobile for Skype on the TREO 650 and Motorola ROKR, SLVR, and RAZR handsets.

EQO Mobile for Skype uses a combination of a software application on the handset (a free download for end users) and a presence-enabled signaling network to connect your PC running the Skype client and your J2ME-capable mobile phone. The technology supports all of Skype's primary functions—phone, instant messaging, and presence.

Essentially, it accomplishes this by using Skype's conferencing capability to connect both your mobile and the phone—or computer—of a third party through your PC.

This isn't exactly about lowering the cost of mobile calls. While calls or IM sessions are in progress, there are two meters running: You'll be racking up mobile charges and spending SkypeOut minutes. Still, given the economical nature of SkypeOut calling, EQO Mobile shouldn't break the bank.

From the company's point of view, the Skype implementation is just the first step in a much more ambitious effort to voice-enable online communities via mobile phones. "The hundreds of millions of people associated with online social networks like MySpace and Match.com can enjoy enormous benefit from accessing these communities through wireless devices," said Andrew Bell, DQO vice president of marketing and alliances. "We have the technology to deliver it to them," he concluded.

While this week's announcement was the first we'd heard about EQO Mobile for Skype (it's only been out of stealth mode for a bit over a month), the product already supports 45 J2ME-enabled handset models.

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