Skype close to launching prepay internet call service

Skype Technologies SA, which offers software that allows users to make free phone calls over the Internet, said Friday that it is...

Skype Technologies, which manufactures software that allows users to make free phone calls over the internet, has said it is closer to launching a prepay service allowing cheap calls to any phone worldwide from a PC.

The Luxembourg-based internet telecoms company announced deals with four carriers to route calls for the upcoming service, saying the agreements will speed the company toward launching the global service, called SkypeOut.

Skype, founded by the creators of the Kazaa P2P file-sharing software, offers software allowing Skype users to call each other free worldwide. More than 7.5 million people are now using the service, according to a Skype spokeswoman, and the software is available in 20 languages.

The forthcoming SkypeOut differs from the company's current offering in that it will not be limited to calling just other Skype users.  The prepay service will allow users to call any fixed-line or mobile phone around the world from their PCs. The calls travel over the internet, as with VoIP, and then hit the public telephone system at their destination, the spokeswoman said.

Agreements with the carriers provide routing and termination of the calls on the public telephone network. The agreements were made with pan-European carrier Colt Telecom Group, Teleglobe International Holdings, and US-based companies iBasis and  Level 3 Communications.

Because the calls travel mainly over the internet, the cost of the service will be very low, the spokeswoman said.  "Basically, you'll be able to make international calls at local rates," she said.

SkypeOut users will be able to download the software, manage and add credit to their accounts from the company's website.

The service is best over broadband connections, although dial-up customers can still use it. Sound quality over broadband is markedly better, "like CD quality sound", the spokeswoman said.

Scarlet Pruitt writes for IDG News Service

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