At about 5:30 (GMT+1) this afternoon members of the Skype Public Chat discussion learned that not only was there a new beta version of Skype for Windows 4.2 available for download but also Skype had released its first beta version of Skype for Symbian (for Nokia smartphones).
Shortly afterwards, while listening to the final Gillmor Gang panel session at LeWeb, I downloaded, via the event’s WiFi network, and installed the newly available Skype for Symbian beta onto a Nokia E71 that I use on Spain’s Vodafone for emergency calls during my trips to Spain. As an initial test I then sent out a few initial Skype Chat test messages. While there were some long delays I finally did receive responses to these messages..
I then realized that the LeWeb official blogger sitting next to me had a Nokia smartphone and asked her to install Skype for Symbian on her N96. About five minutes later, as Michael Arrington of TechCrunch fame was chiding Apple for not supporting VoIP over 3G networks, I made a successful Skype-to-Skype call between my E71 and her N96. While this call went across LeWeb’s WiFi network, the irony here is that Skype for Symbian is a complete VoIP client on a mobile smartphone and, according to Skype’s blog post:
Skype for Symbian works over Wifi or 3G data connection. We recommend having a unlimited data plan when using 3G connection.
I followed up with a successful Skype call to Andy Abramson at his hotel in Madrid, Spain where the voice quality was excellent in spite of the event’s background audio of the panel session.
My LeWeb deskmate has a Vodafone Netherlands voice and data plan and will let me know when she returns to Amsterdam this weekend if she can make Skype calls over Vodafone Netherland’s 3G network.
Skype for Symbian beta is claimed to be a “limited” beta; however, it supports:
- Free Skype-to-Skype calling
- Call phones with Skype credits or subscription
- Receive calls on your Online Number
- Instant Messaging
- Group conversations
- File sending and receiving
The important bottom line here is that Skype has finally released a mobile smartphone client that supports both 3G and WiFi from a full VoIP client with no intermediary servers as has been used on the 3 Skypephone over the past two years. Its use over the data plans of wireless carriers will test several aspects of smartphone services:
- Will carriers attempt to block VoIP clients’ services that bypass their inherent voice channel?
- Will smartphones have sufficient battery life to support a full day’s use of a VoIP client over a 3G network?
- How much data would be used during an average day’s use of Skype? (While many carriers claim to offer “unlimited” data plans, there are actually monthly caps of 5GB or more.)
- Where does a full Skype client provide an economic advantage over various voice plans, especially when it comes to making calls while roaming?
During my recent trips to Europe I have made heavy use of Skype for iPhone (and sometimes Truphone) over WiFi access points. Given the high charges for data while roaming, Skype for Symbian is still not a service that I would use over a “roaming” 3G network but I would continue to look for WiFi access points in hotels, restaurants and airports to access Skype on the supported phones. However, in my home country I can expect to make Skype calls from anywhere in Rogers 3G coverage areas using their relatively inexpensive data plan at little or no additional cost.
Update: Phil Wolff has more details and some caveats about this initial Skype for Symbian beta version over at Skype Journal.
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