TECH LAB Skype moves in on cellphone industry
By Hiawatha Bray, Globe Staff | April 9, 2009 The Boston Globe
Technology has a way of eroding corporate empires; ask anybody in the newspaper business. Now the cellular phone industry is getting a taste of the same medicine. By installing new software on their smartphones, consumers are hooking up to alternative phone services and bypassing their cell carriers.
It isn't an entirely new trend, but it may have reached a tipping point on March 31. That's when the Internet-based telephone service Skype introduced a version of its software that runs on the popular Apple iPhone.
You've probably heard of Skype, a program written by Estonian hackers and later bought by Internet auction house eBay for $2.6 billion. People around the world use it to talk to each other free of charge over their Internet-linked computers. Skype also offers connections to traditional phone services at dirt-cheap prices. For example, Skype calls to any phone number in the United States cost 2.1 cents per minute. But it's mainly a hit with international callers, because the service's prices for overseas calls beat standard phone company rates. My wife pays Skype about 21 cents a minute to chat with her relatives in Congo, while AT&T charges 59 cents a minute.
But what good is Skype on a cellphone? Wouldn't you still have to burn cellular minutes to use it? Not if your phone has built-in Wi-Fi wireless networking. Then Skype could relay calls over the Internet, with no help from the phone company.