A U.S.-based start-up firm unveiled a gateway Wednesday that links Cingular Wireless users to the Skype VoIP network, enabling cell phone callers to place and receive Internet calls.
"You don't need a PC anymore to use Skype," said Jacob Guedalia, CEO of iSkoot, in an interview from the GSM World Congress in Barcelona. "We provide the gateway. All the Skype magic happens in the network."
In launching its iSkoot Mobile Network, Guedalia said the service is getting underway with Cingular. He added that his firm is also targeting Google Talk, as well as additional calling platforms.
Noting that Cingular and GoogleTalk are open architectures, Guedalia said fertile initial grounds for the iSkoot Mobile Network are represented by cell phone service providers that use the GSM European standard that is dominant in global markets.
He explained that the GSM framework is based on Java, while the other major cell phone infrastructure represented by Qualcomm's CDMA-based BREW framework is not open.
To use the iSkoot network, a cell phone owner need only download a small piece of software from the company's Beta site, www.iskoot.com.
Guedalia concedes there are some inhibiting factors to the service, but he maintains they are disappearing, as cell phone calling and infrastructure matures. "You need to be able to make a local call (over the gateway)," he said. "And you need good mass market phones."
He said the service currently works best with advanced phones like the Nokia Series 600 and Motorola's RAZR models. Guedalia said the pieces to iSkoot's service are gradually falling into place. He noted that he is meeting with representatives of major telecommunications service providers at the GSM show in Barcelona this week. Guedalia has no direct endorsements from partners, he said, but he indicated that service providers, particularly those with open developer architectures, are looking at the service favorably.
For a cell phone to operate effectively on the iSkoot network, Guedalia said the phone must have three chief characteristics: it must be able to make a cell phone call, must display graphics, and must be capable of sending and receiving data.
"Conventional wisdom says that VoIP and Wi-Fi pose a threat to cannibalize mobile air-time minutes away from the mobile operator," he said. "Rather than stealing anyone's minutes, PC Calling is increasing the total minutes of voice communications. The mobile networks, though, are not yet benefiting from this revolution.
"By creating a bridge spanning the mobile and broadband networks, mobile networks can jump from one to the other and take advantage of Internet phone services and buddy lists directly from the regular, everyday cell phones, with no need for Wi-Fi, headsets, microphones, PCs, or USB phones. The cell phone companies would get expanded Average Revenue Per User (ARPU)."
Guedalia is promoting the idea that iSkoot can give mobile operators a competitive edge by offering a complementary service that provides text messaging to buddy systems as well as the ability for consumers to make inexpensive calls.