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From the inception of mobile phones, end-users had to pay some premium for their mobile calls compared to landline calls. The evolution of technologies let people talk for free several years ago thanks to voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP) and now even mobile phones can let the whole world talk for free using Skype network. On Monday Skype and Three (3), a UK-based mobile operator, unveiled the industry’s first 3G Skypephone.

“Skype began by offering free PC to PC calling and now we’re doing the same with mobile calls with 3. Thanks to 3, Skype has now taken a giant step forward in the mobile arena. It takes an innovative operator like 3 to challenge traditional thinking and offer the kind of product other operators are still shying away from,” said Michael van Swaaij, chief executive officer of Skype, a subsidiary of eBay.

The Skypephone from 3 is a fully-featured cell phone with 2” QCIF (176x220) screen that works in GSM networks and features 3G capability. The device sports numerous multimedia capabilities, such as 2MP camera, MP3 player, Bluetooth, mobile TV and Internet. The novelty has 16MB of built-in memory that can be expanded with up to 1GB micro-SD card. The phone weighs 86 grams and measures 100mm x 44mm x 13.6mm (Height x Width x Thickness). 3 declares 320 hours standby time, 270 minutes battery talk time and 170 minutes battery video talk time.

The handset was developed by Skype and 3 in partnership with Qualcomm, using Qualcomm’s BREW platform to enable Skype to work with core handset features such as address book and messaging.

3 customers using the 3 Skypephone will be able to make Skype calls and send instant messages on the move with the push of a button. This is the first time an operator has offered a mass market device which is tailor-made for free calling over the Internet from a mobile. Now, all of Skype’s 246 million registered can be reached for free with the 3 Skypephone.

The 3 Skypephone will be available this year in the UK, Australia, Austria, Denmark, Hong Kong, Italy, Ireland, Macau and Sweden. Skype to Skype calls will always be free from 3 Skypephone as long as the customer is on contract or his or her PAYG 3 credit is topped up monthly. In the UK, the 3 Skypephone is ?49.99 ($103.1, ?71.5) on a PAYG tariff or free on a contract.

“3 wants to make the mobile internet available to everyone. To do this, we believe that services need to be simple to access and affordable. Communication is the prime function of the mobile today. Skype is the leader in internet communications. To enable Skype to go mobile in this way brings free internet calls together with an affordable 3G handset. Mobile has the potential to massively increase access to internet calling,” said Kevin Russell, chief executive officer for 3 UK said.

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