Wed, Nov 10, 2004 - Page 10 News List

VoIP phone calls getting cheaper

COMPETITION Most phone calls made through the Internet telephony service Skype are now cheaper than using traditional phone services

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

After seeing overwhelming traffic following its introduction of the free Internet telephony service "Skype" to Taiwan in mid-July, PC Home Online (網路家庭) yesterday announced local Skype users can now make calls from computers to landlines and cellphones at a lower cost than using fixed-line services.

So far, "PCHome-Skype" has surpassed 1.3 million downloads, and is expected to reach 2 million by the end of the year, Jan Hung-tze (詹宏志), chief executive officer of PC Home Group, which owns PC Home Online, said at a press conference yesterday. PC Home Online is the nation's fourth-largest Internet portal.

The new service PC Home unveiled yesterday -- called "SkypeOut" -- enables users to make domestic or international calls from computers to fixed line and mobile phones for one-eighth to one-third the price that fixed-line carriers charge.

For example, Skype charges NT$0.714 per minute for calls to the US and Canada from Taiwan, while state-run Chunghwa Telecom Co (中華電信) bills NT$5.6 or NT$5.9 per minute depending on the time the call is made. The rate for Skype users to make domestic calls is NT$0.924 per minute to a landline, while Chunghwa Telecom charges NT$1.6 for three minute. Calling a cellphone from your PC is a better deal: Skype charges NT$3.444 a minute to call cellphones, while Chunghwa Telecom costs NT$4 to NT$10 per minute depending on the receiver's carrier.

At the press conference in Taipei, Geoffrey Prentice, director of Skype Technologies SA's new markets division, said the rates were determined by the termination costs different fixed-line carriers charge, plus the margin Skype adds to maintain operations.

As some users have complained about the poor quality of the connection when making PC-to-mobile phone calls, Joyce Tzeng (曾淑華), an assistant public relations manager at PC Home, said the situation would not occur with a smooth Internet connection and little traffic.

Prentice said the company will also offer a Skype service for small businesses -- a premium service plus several features designed for enterprises -- and Skype videoconferencing in Taiwan next year.

Meanwhile, Prentice said the company is working with manufacturers to produce Skype-accommodated handsets that allow users to make Skype calls the way they do from regular phones.

The phones, slated to hit the market sometime next year, will be popular in Taipei, as the City Government is pledging to bring wireless connections to the whole city, Prentice said.

Although Skype and other emerging voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) services have caused declining profits in the US telecommunications industry, Prentice said the company is not trying to bring down the industry.

"We've talked about several carriers in the US; they admitted that fixed-line business is going away," Prentice told the Taipei Times. "They should start offering services on top of network infrastructure ... but they are old monopolies" that have trouble thinking about new ways of doing business.

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