Netgear Inc. and Skype, the Web-based calling company which is a unit of eBay Inc. said on Wednesday they plan to introduce the first wireless mobile telephone for Skype.
The Netgear Wi-Fi phone is designed to work wherever a consumer is connected to a wireless Internet access point -- at home, in an office, cafe, public hotspot, or in cities where wireless access may be available citywide, the companies said.
By contrast, existing Skype phones, including cordless models, must be connected to a computer.
A variety of telephone makers including Cisco's Linksys, are seeking to cash in on the Web-based calling craze popularized by Skype, first in Europe and Asia, and increasingly in the United States.
Users can make free domestic and international calls and hold conference calls with other Skype users. Calls to regular phones incur a small fee.
"Customers can now call anyone on Skype, anywhere in the world for free without using a PC anytime they are connected to Wi-Fi," said Patrick Lo, Netgear's chairman and chief executive in a statement issued ahead of a press conference at the Consumers Electronics Show underway in Las Vegas this week.
An October report from Jupiter Research predicted that 20.4 million U.S. households will subscribe to some form of Internet-based broadband phone service by 2010.
The Netgear phone is pre-loaded with Skype's software. The user simply needs to turn on the phone and enter a username and password. The software pulls up the user's full contact list of Skype contacts to whom free calls can be made.
More information on Netgear's Skype Wi-Fi phone, including pricing and availability, is planned for the first quarter of 2006, the companies said.
In addition to the Skype Wi-Fi phone, Netgear and Skype said Netgear's RangeMax wireless network router will be optimized to work with Skype.
RangeMax is designed to avoid interference from neighboring wireless networks and to eliminate "dead spots" that can prevent consistent connections around a house.