iSkoot Launches Beta Client and Service for Blackberry

Another Option Available as a Skype Mobile Solution for the Blackberry

Whereas two months ago, there was a lack of any access to Skype from a Blackberry, at least three offerings have arrived on the scene in the interim; previously Skype Journal has reported on Mobivox and IM+ for Skype Software.. For reasons I have explained in the past I have suggested that the best option for mobile Skype was to provide an IM client but use an underlying wireless protocol (GSM, eVDO and their 3G counterparts) to provide voice communication. Pure VoIP on wireless data plans makes no sense from either economic nor resource use viewpoint.

Last August Skype and iSkoot announced a Co-Marketing Agreement wherein Skype would certify iSkoot’s mobile solution for making and receiving Skype calls on mobile devices. iSkoot’s initial appearance was as one of many services offered by 3 Group’s X-Series service in the U.K. last fall; the service is now offered in seven additional countries served by Hutchison Whampoa. Basically with their service, the Skype client is pre-installed on handhelds such as the Nokia N73, and others from LG and Ericsson.

On Monday iSkoot launched a beta of iSkoot 1.1 mobile application for Blackberry which provides a comprehensive Skype on Blackberry experience including IM (presence/chat) and voice communications. As with IM+ for Skype Software, iSkoot extends the Skype user’s reach out to anyone with a Blackberry. .The Skype client is shown on the right; it provides both IM and voice calling access to all your Skype contacts. Hidden by the bottom of the menu are four familiar icons via whose selection you can view all your contacts; or either of your Skype or SkypeOut contacts. The rightmost (fourth) icon provides access to chat sessions; the red marker indicates a chat session that you have not yet viewed. Clicking on the Blackberry roller wheel (or the more recent Blackberries’ five-way Trackball) brings up a menu from which you can select various Skype activities as shown including management of your status and your contacts.

With this week’s announcement, iSkoot becomes available in a manner such that it becomes carrier agnostic while remaining carrier friendly in that it does use basic (circuit switched) wireless minutes. Whereas previously iSkoot’s server side ran only on 3 Group’s servers, they have now installed their own servers and established a worldwide network of points-of presence in over 40 countries to provide local access to their service.

When you sign up you are transparently assigned a phone number nearest your "home" area code; this provides your local connection to the iSkoot servers. Initializing a Skype/SypeOut call involves calling the assigned number. Concurrent with this call a Skype instance is created; your login information is transmitted (encrypted as with all Blackberry data communications) and your Skype/SkypeOut call is launched. Upon completion of the call, the Skype instance goes away, leaving no footprint on the server. At no point does iSkoot or its servers store any of your Skype login information.

In an interview with iSkoot’s Vice-President Business Development, Roy Erez, this afternoon, he pointed out the following about iSkoot’s service:

  • iSkoot has been working closely with Skype to develop a mobile-based service by which users can have access to their Skype account wherever there is wireless access.
  • The service is currently not optimized for Roaming. With the current architecture, there may be wireless carrier charges for calls made from outside your local calling area to the service’s POP that has been designated. However, you can change the local POP connection by changing your base phone number. For instance, while in the U.S. I could use a prepaid Cingular SIM to avoid the current $0.95 per minute charge from Rogers for making calls from the U.S. back to Canada or within the U.S.
  • The main advantage to developing carrier relationships is to provide an ongoing billing mechanism similar to the £5 per month fee that 3 Group charges for its unlimited use plan. And of course, handsets come preconfigured with the iSkoot client.
  • With their Hutchison Whampoa (3 Group) experience involving thousands of users, they have developed significant expertise in managing the Skype instances required to deliver voice calls, especially with respect to scaling and load balancing issues.
  • iSkoot has become his address book on his Blackberry although plans are afoot to also link into the Blackberry’s native address book.
  • Plans are also afoot to expand the service to Symbian (where they already support the N73 and N80i as well as some E-series devices on 2.xG networks) and Windows Mobile platforms.

I made some test calls with Dan York earlier today; Dan reports on them here. Understand that iSkoot is currently in beta and they are working out issues related to smoothing out the connection process, keeping presence status current as well as identifying other challenges in delivering this service. And, holding the best news to the last, currently the service is free of any charges.

Tags: Skype on Blackberry, Blackberry, Skype, iSkoot, Dan York, Mobivox, IM+ for Skype Software, mobile Skype, 3 Group, Hutchson Whampoa

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.
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