Meanwhile, on Verizon: free Skype calls coming next month

Skype Mobile on a BlackberrySkype on the iPhone is old news, but the most frequent complaint about the iPhone app is that it doesn't work over AT&T's 3G network -- you have to be in WiFi range to make or receive a Skype call.  Meanwhile, those of us with other smartphones haven't even had that capability, hitting our heads against shaky, unfriendly voice-over-IP (VOIP) implementations such as Sipdroid.  But today's announcement of a partnership between Verizon and Skype promises to bring Skype to thousands of Blackberry and Android phones, putting pressure on AT&T to allow iPhone users the same privilege.

What's all the fuss about?  Well, suppose you have limited airtime minutes per month.  And suppose you are frequently (but not always) in range of WiFi.  If you have Skype on your phone, you can tell your contacts to call you on Skype instead of your phone number and save your airtime minutes for other people who don't use Skype.  (If you make international calls, you can save a bundle by making those via Skype, too.)  But if Skype only works when you're in range of WiFi, then you're tied down to your home or your office, much like you were before you had a cell phone in the first place.  Now suppose you can use Skype over 3G as well ... the cord is cut, and you're free to roam ... at least within your 3G service area.  Whether or not AT&T's 3G coverage is as spotty as Verizon claims it is, it's still a lot more extensive than WiFi coverage!

Skype over 3G offers even more benefit to people who have unlimited data plans but limited voice minutes per month, and that is almost certainly why AT&T has not allowed Skype to use 3G so far, and that is almost certainly what Verizon is taking a big ol' pot shot at with this latest move.  I for one can't wait to see AT&T's response!

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<p>Ben Stallings is a Web Developer for <em>Smartphone Magazine</em> and <em>iPhone Life</em>. He also does freelance Web development, specializing in the Drupal content-management system, under the name Interdependent Web. He lives in Emporia, Kansas.</p>