Skype is going to be big for retailers and consumers in the US in 2007. With a little homework and some careful shopping, you’ll be able to make wise and valuable buying decisions that will make your Skype experience great for your long distance phone bills, and a good investment as well.
How to Shop for a Skype Phone
Al Abrams | Abrams Creative Services
Skype phones will be one of the hottest categories of consumer electronics products this year. Ebay, which owns Skype, plans to spend big on national marketing and branding to make Skype a household word in American homes and offices.
Skype is the world's fastest-growing Internet communication offering, allowing unlimited free voice and video communication between Skype users. There are an estimated 135 million Skype users today. That number is rapidly growing as consumers realize the dramatic cost-savings and convenience of making domestic and international Skype phone calls. Skype is available in 27 languages and is used in almost every country around the world. Expect over 200 million users by 2008.
Skype generates revenue through its annual subscription costs ($30.00/year), and its "premium offerings" such as fees for allowing users to make and receive calls to and from landline and mobile phones. They also provide paid-for services such as voicemail, call forwarding, and a variety of ring tones and avatars.
Skype also has growing profitable sales and marketing relationships with a network of hardware and software providers. You'll be seeing Skype phones from a variety of manufacturers at major consumer electronics and office products stores in the US. The retailers that get on the bandwagon early stand to gain the most from the demand in Skype phones that is coming.
Skype has no such monthly fee and is not dependent on any existing phone line, thus the cost differential between the two VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) services can be dramatic. In a nutshell, Skype is way cheaper.
Simply put, Skype phones are about convenience, ease of use and mobility away from the computer. There are roughly four categories to choose from.
Corded and cordless Skype phones.
On the low-end of the price spectrum are the corded and "cordless" Skype phones. When you wanted to use Skype when it first came out, you had to wear a geeky headset and microphone combo that was permanently tethered to your desktop computer or laptop by a USB cable -- not very convenient and not much fun.
Now you can make and receive Skype calls just as you would on any regular telephone. After loading the free Skype software, you simply plug one of the corded Skype phone handsets into the USB port of your desktop or laptop, and you're on your way. It's really that simple.
Existing Skype users can sign into their account and conveniently download all their contacts to the Skype phone. Users also have the ability to search for Skype contacts directly on the handset's screen and add them to an integrated contact list for both Skype contacts and traditional phone numbers.
For a few bucks more, you can now get "cordless" handset convenience. You no longer have to sit in front of your computer when you want to make a Skype call. These cordless Skype phones come with a handset and charger, combined into a USB base station that plugs into your computer. You can get 25' remote talking distance with the non-DECT models, and up to 164' with the newer DECT models.
With Skype running on your PC, the handset can read and display your contact list on its illuminated display. Just choose the person's name from the menu that you want to talk to, press a button, and get ready to talk. The handset also supports SkypeOut dialing. It rings when you have a Skype or a SkypeIn call coming in, and shows the callers ID on the screen.
Dual-Mode DECT phones.
As previously mentioned, "Dual-Mode phones" have both Skype and standard telephone ports in one unit. You can connect directly to your broadband and RJ-11 landline connection (sometimes referred to as PSTN) - and even conference in your calls from both sources on one remote handset.
The first series of products to be launched in this class are the Philips VOIP841 cordless phone and NETGEAR's cordless phone for Skype. Others models from other manufacturers are on the way.
These Dual-Mode remote cordless phones offer increased mobility throughout the home or office. Also, consumers with multiple cordless phone handsets have the ability to hold separate conversations simultaneously - one on Skype, the second on the traditional landline - each from a different handset.
Both the Philips and NETGEAR cordless phones have Skype running on them out of the box, and they can act as a replacement for an ordinary cordless phone, because they can make and receive traditional telephone calls through the landline line connection.
DECT is the new FCC 1.9 GHz frequency standard for sound quality for remote phones which some of the major manufacturers are incorporating into their new remote phones. However, the standard 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz remote phones, now commonly is use in the US, with additional Skype features built-in, seem to work just as well, and are less expensive overall. (DECT phones have an extra cost hidden into each unit because of outdated "frequency clearance fees" being charged by UTAM, an obscure corporation chartered by the US Government.)
It's important to note that Skype itself is not a replacement for an ordinary phone so it cannot be used for emergency 911 calls. This is one important reason you may want to purchase a Dual-Mode Skype phone - you will always have 911 available when you need it.
Look for phones that are Skype Certified. The Skype Certification is designed to reassure users that products will be easy to use, and will work well with Skype software. Skype Certified hardware products undergo rigorous testing for more than a month to ensure that they meet Skype's high usability and technical quality standards.
Premium Skype features, such as SkypeOut (for outbound inexpensive international calls to traditional landlines and mobile phones), SkypeIn, (to receive calls from landline or mobile phones on Skype), and Skype Voicemail, are all easily accessible through these phones.
Embedded Skype phones.
As mentioned, the idea behind these phones is simple. The cordless embedded Skype phones provide you the flexibility to enjoy free Skype to Skype calls, and inexpensive calls to landline, cell and mobile phones anywhere, at any time, in your home or office, without turning having to turn on your computer, saving you even more on energy costs.
Wi-Fi VoIP phones.
Wi-Fi Phones allow users to make or receive Skype phone calls as long as users are in the coverage of a wireless local area network (LAN). They offer the mobility of Wi-Fi with the cost savings of Skype.
Skype Wi-Fi phones feature the Skype interface, so they're ready to use with any wireless network. To make a call, simply use the intuitive, on-screen color menu to locate your contacts. Use it anywhere in the world through secured or open access to a Wi-Fi network. You can make and receive calls at home, at your office, in cafes, or through municipal access in cities that have Wi-Fi "clouds".
Most Wi-Fi Phones come with Skype pre-installed and ready to use with SkypeIn and SkypeOut support. You can make cost-effective Skype calls to landline and mobile phones worldwide and receive incoming calls from landline and mobile phones on your Skype account. In addition, they provide voicemail support.
With the purchase of Skype voicemail, the Skype Wi-Fi phones will record a short voice message from the caller when you're away. 802.11b/g wireless compatibility allows you to use your Skype account with complete mobility. They feature an easy-to-use user PC-like Skype User Interface making for easy configuration and use. These have exceptional voice quality in a shared wireless voice and data network.
The Wi-Fi phone will work anywhere in the world a user has a secured or open access to a Wi-Fi network - in any home, office, public hotspot, or municipal wireless access point that does not require browser-based authentication.
Skype is already big in Europe, China and South America, and Skype phones are going to be hot items for consumers and retailers in the US in 2007.
If Skype phones are in your future, with a little homework and some careful shopping, you'll be able to make a wise and valuable buying decision that will not only make using Skype easy, you'll see dramatically lower costs of all your long distance and international phone calls.
Al Abrams is national sales, PR and creative marketing consultant to manufacturers and major retailers of consumer electronics, Skype phones and other computer products, services and accessories. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, Skype ID: al.abrams, phone: 818-343-6365.
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