In a sign of Skype's ambitions to extend its reach into the workplace, Polycom Inc, the largest US maker of audioconferencing speakerphones, launched on Monday its first product designed for use with the popular Internet telephone service.
Unlike Polycom's iconic three-pronged phones found in conference rooms, its Communicator speakerphone is designed for individual use. It connects to a PC via a USB cable. Pressing a button on the US$129.99 gadget launches Skype on the computer, where the call is set up.
Robert Hagerty, Polycom's chief executive, said Communicator's speaker and stereo microphone are intended to take advantage of Skype's audio quality, which -- barring network interruptions -- is superior to that of the traditional phone system.
Luxembourg-based Skype, which allows its users to call each other for free anywhere in the world, is a subsidiary of Internet auction site eBay Inc. Last week, Skype reported that it has signed up 100 million users, nearly twice the number it had when bought by eBay in September.
Henry Gomez, Skype's general manager for North America, said 30 percent of Skypers use the application mainly for work.
"These are mom-and-pops who are trying to control their calling costs," Gomez said.
He said small businesses would make up most of business Skype users for the next several years, though divisions at larger companies are experimenting with the service.
Skype has no marketing budget for reaching businesses, meaning it relies on word of mouth and partnerships with hardware manufacturers like Polycom to draw the attention of such users.
It did recently launch a Web site for business customers, providing some basic tools to help them manage expenditures.