February 25, 2006

Wireless Skype handsets (802.11)

Those of you who never talk to anyone outside this (US) island you live on, chances are that you have never used skype. For others who can't buy unlimited minutes to other parts of the world, thank skype for trying to change the world.

But skype world is not perfect yet. You still have to use your computer to make and receive calls. There are some skype-phone gateways available, but most of them are just hacks at best. A few companies have big plans for skype in the near future and here are some interesting details I gathered over the last few weeks.

To begin with there are 4 classes of skype devices currently out there.

  • Traditional headphone and microphones devices, using speaker/mic-in connections on the computer

  • Intelligent wired USB devices which can interact with Skype software on the computer and make/receive calls. Some even have a lcd display on the handset.

  • Intelligent USB devices which can do whatever the wired devices can do, but you have the flexibility of moving around without the wires. The catch is that there is a base module which is always attached to the USB port of the computer. And your computer has to on for it to work.

  • Skype on handheld devices which requires you to buy expensive PDAs to make free/cheap phone calls


Most of these hardware are available on ebay, froogle and skype.

A few days ago, a friend showed me some interesting news about FON on Om Maliks Blog. Fon is a interesting community project which promotes wireless access sharing by promissing connectivity to its large network of POPs around the world. The catch is that if you want to access thier POPs, you have to set one FON wireless gateway yourself. Aha.. if you know how bittorrent works, u will try to draw some similarities here.

Anyway, so I heard that Google and Skype are two of the investors in Fon. Google, who have been heavily investing in the last mile connectivity (free wireless in cities like mountain view) have a lot to gain by monitoring user activity. But what I couldn't understand was the reason skype getting into it.

Until I figured out that skype heavily depends on internet availability to allow customers to make phone calls, and without this network being available, every one of its customers will continue to depend on traditional means of wireless communication which bites into thier revenue.

If skype could provide internet connectivity over 802.11, skype users might think about just using skype for thier calls. But who on earth wants to cary their seven pound laptops around with them ? I'm glad you asked.

There are a few vendors out there who have been very busy building 802.11 based Skype phones which don't need any USB at all. There are a few others who are building 802.11 into the regular cellular phones such that customers have a choice about which network to use when there is a 802.11 network available. Interesting. So who are these guys ?

I recently bought free.1 phone which is a wired USB device to use it with my skype account on my powerbook. Though it worked beautifully (as expected) , I'll probably recommend everyone out there to wait for the 802.11 devices to come out if you can. Also, even though I mentioned about FON, I personally would never set it up without putting it behind a firewall of some kind. So in other words I'll probably end up paying FON/Skype instead of me setting up the FON wireless device on my network.

2 comments:

Techhawking » Blog Archive » Skype PBX is here : Good or bad ? said...

[...] A few days ago I wrote about skype invading the cellphone market. While this might be a few years away, something more interesting might happen much earlier. A few companies at CEBit are showing off Skype to PBX gateways. Imagine how easy it would be communicate between two branches using VOIP protocols but without the expense of costly VOIP hardware ? I think this is a bag of good and bad news. [...]

Techhawking » Blog Archive » Don't kill the messenger… said...

[...] And then we heard about the new Windows Live Messenger being released which looks different but doesn’t feel that different at the first pass. What is very different with this version, however, is the announcement that Philips is now making Voip handsets with embedded Windows Live Messenger in it. This trend of moving VoIP software to handheld devices is not new, but with Microsoft jumping into the market, it not very surprising why Skype is giving away free minutes. [...]