If one characteristic of a utopian society is that you can make free phone calls to anyone in the world, then utopia has come a little closer to reality. On Friday, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) giant Skype announced it had reached 100 million registered users worldwide.
Skype's free service allows you to make computer-to-computer voice or video calls, but only to other Skype users. The larger the number of users, the larger the number of people you can call for free.
For an added fee, you can call any regular landline or mobile phone in the world. The higher-end Skype services also give you voicemail, call forwarding, and custom ringtones.
In addition to announcing the news about hitting the 100-million mark, Skype announced that it has signed with EMI Music Publishing and Warner Music Group to sell audio clips from their collections -- from bands such as Madonna, Green Day, and Red Hot Chili Peppers -- for use as ringtones.
"This is a typical example of the 'network effect,'" said IDC analyst Will Stofega. "The more people who use this service, the more valuable it becomes." But, he added, it is important to remember that Skype is not just free phone calls.
"It's also an instant-messaging client, video [service], and potentially all sorts of things," he said. "And [reaching] 100 million users is certainly helpful if Skype is going to have other kinds of uses."
The Luxembourg-based company's user base has nearly doubled since it was purchased by online auctioneer eBay in September, 2005, for a deal that was valued at $2.5 billion. At that time, Skype had about 54 million registered users.
'Leaps and Bounds'
"Skype has grown in leaps and bounds," Niklas Zennstrom, Skype CEO and cofounder, said in a statement, "by making it simple for anyone across the world with an Internet connection to do something they could not do before -- talk for as long as they like, to whoever they like for no cost."
The greatest number of Skype users online at any one time is six million, according to the company, and the time when the most users are online is about 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Eastern.
Skype, which is not yet three years old, was founded by the creators of the free file-sharing program Kazaa. The Skype software is offered in 27 languages and, according to the company, is available in nearly every country around the world.