Recently a couple of acquaintances who were leaving for Europe asked me whether they could use Skype for iPhone for “free” calling. The bad news: with high data roaming charges when outside the country on “foreign” 3G/LTE carriers, using Skype for iPhone has the potential to double the cost of their trip and create “bill shock” on returning home. The good news: put the iPhone (or iPad) in Airplane mode and take advantage of the rapid and pervasive growth of WiFi access points worldwide.
Skype for iPhone (and Skype for iPad) over 3G/LTE uses the carrier’s data, not voice, channel. At a minimum of $3.00/MB (if on a roaming data plan), one needs to make use of the stealth carrier, WiFi. And, if free WiFi is not available, use a service with a per minute connection charge without any data limit.
But how to find a WiFi access point?
Hotels, coffee shops, restaurants, airports, train stations and offices will tend to have WiFi access points. Some will be free, some will require a subscription service such as Boingo and some hotels may charge daily fees for WiFi access. Some airports will provide access via wireless services, such as T-Mobile WiFi at Frankfurt and Munich airports, at an hourly or daily rate.
One alternative, if you are a Skype user and have bought Skype credit, is to check out the availability of a Skype WiFi access point (formerly called Skype Access).
The bad news – yes it has a charge starting at US$0.06/4p/€0,05 per minute (may vary by WiFi operator) but you are only charged for connected minutes with no limits on the amount of data transmitted. Instead of being charged for 20MB of data for a 10 to 15 minute Skype call at, say, Rogers’ @$5.00/MB data roaming charge (total $100), you can pay as little as under $1.00 for the same call.
And Skype WiFi can also be used to check out Twitter, Facebook or some web browsing activity.
But where does Skype for iPhone/iPad come into play? Skype has announced the launch of an iPhone/IPad application, Skype WiFi, which will provide access to Skype WiFi access points at the same rate. Skype WiFi, the application, is available via the Apple App Store. Simply login and Skype WiFi is active; you will see a notification if you are near a supported access point – along with the charge for using the access point.
With the new Skype WiFi app, you can go online on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch (running iOS 4.1 or above with multitasking) at over 1 million WiFi hotspots around the world, including hotels, airports, train stations, convention centres, bars and restaurants. And with Skype Credit you only pay for the minutes you use. So, there’s no need to buy an hour or day WiFi voucher if you’re only looking to check your email or make a quick Skype call.
One caution: be careful to only open Skype for iPhone when you really need it; otherwise, especially if you have a large number of Skype contacts, you could drain your battery in 3 to 4 hours. (With experience to date, battery drain has not been an issue when using Skype for iPad.)
Bottom line: The service now called Skype WiFi (formerly Skype Access) provides not only a “last resort” WiFi access service but also can significantly reduce the cost of making “otherwise free” Skype-to-Skype calls while bypassing wireless carrier roaming charges. The iOS application called Skype WiFi extends this access service to use on iPhone and iPad.
Note that from 7:00 p.m. Eastern time Friday, August 19 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern time Sunday, August 21 you can try out Skype WiFi for 60 minutes at no charge. Otherwise you will need Skype credit to use the service.
When will we be seeing a similar application for Android phones?
And with a 6GB per month data plan, I’ll continue to use Skype for iPhone or Skype for iPad on my “home” Rogers 3G/HSPA+/LTE service.