Skype could soon have a stronger foothold in China. The Internet telephone company that eBay purchased last month for $2.5 billion in cash and stock on Tuesday reported closing a deal with Pacific Internet Ltd. to jointly provide voice services in Singapore.
PacNet, Asia Pacific's largest independent Internet telecommunications service provider, serves businesses in China through its Hong Kong subsidiary. "We also have customers in Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Austria, Hong Kong and India," said Mervin Wang, senior manager for corporate communications and investor relations. "The initial focus of the agreement primarily will be in Singapore, but we are interested in talking with Skype for a subsequent rollout in other parts of the region."
Skype offers its free computer-to-computer telephony service to users in China but not its fee-paying SkypeOut computer-to-telephone service because of regulatory restrictions. PacNet has the geographic scale to change that in time.
PacNet is the first Internet communications service provider in South East Asia to sign a co-branding agreement with Skype, Wang said. The agreement gives its Singapore customers personal service through a help-hotline for quick response on technical issues.
Along with managing the hot-line, PacNet will oversee the website, customer support, marketing, distribution and sale of Skype's services. "Having a local ISV partner like us, Skye customers have the convenience of local monthly billing and customer support," Wang said.
Next week, PacNet will begin signing-up subscribers to the PacNet-Skype portal, which will launch later this year. The service provider is offering free credit to "test drive" the service. It will offer Singapore's Internet users free and unlimited Skype-to-Skype voice calls worldwide, and the pre-paid SkypeOut service that enables users to call any fixed or mobile phone in the world at competitive local rates, regardless of the service they use.
The VoIP Asia-Pacific market is just emerging. The highest rate of adopters for most new network technologies from mobile data to VoIP are multinational corporations with headquarters in the United States. These companies have the highest adoption rates, said Lisa Pierce, vice president Forrester Research. "In the United States, based on what customers are saying, we'll probably see growth from 21 percent this year to about 27 percent to 30 percent in 2006," she said. "Overseas well probably see growth in the mid 20 percent."
PacNet's deal with Skype is meant to expand its suite of services that ride on the Internet. Other partners include security providers and application providers such as IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard & Co.