Skype is taking another swipe at traditional telecoms. The company that lets users make computer-to-computer calls for free is launching a service that makes computer-to-phone calls for less than 2 cents a minute in some areas.
The new feature, dubbed SkypeOut and launched Tuesday by the Luxembourg-based company, is designed to give tiny Skype Technologies SA an edge on large telecommunications companies by undercutting their prices.
“In the long term, people will be using the Internet to make calls because everyone is on the Internet,” said Niklas Zennstrom, the company’s co-founder and chief executive. Zennstrom also co-founded Kazaa, the music file-sharing program.
Skype’s basic program, Skype 1.0, is offered as a free download. It enables users with broadband Internet connections to call each other from their computers using a technology called Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
Unlike a traditional phone call where sound is converted into electronic signals that traverse an elaborate network of switches in a dedicated circuit, VoIP converts audio into packets of data that transit the Internet or private networks just like e-mail or Web pages, though voice packets get priority status. The packets get reassembled and converted to sound on the other end of the call.
The technology is so much cheaper than the traditional circuit-switched network that a number of big telecoms and cable companies, primarily in the United States, have begun offering fee-based VoIP plans.