Anyone who has been reading my columns lately knows Im all agog over the latest trends surrounding Web Telephony. After so many years and so much hype, the marketplace is finally catching up with the grand vision of easy-to-use peer-to-peer VoIP services. I, for one, couldnt be happier.
Youd have to be hiding under a rock these days not to notice all the announcements of new phones, headsets, and WiFi routers most of them Skype-certified and designed to make it easier and more enjoyable to make and receive peer-to-peer VoIP (define - news -alerts) calls.
To date, there are about 100 products that have been Skype-certified, and it seems that new ones are being announced on a weekly basis, which is not that surprising given the rapidly expanding size of the Skype marketplace (231,731,694 downloads and counting). Many of these products can be found at Radio Shack and online at Skypes online store at www.skype.com/store.
The latest and more drool-inducing product of this ilk Netgears (news - alerts) Skype WiFi Phone was announced just last month at the Consumer Electronics Show. As we all know, Skype is great for making free phone calls anywhere around the world, but the downside has been that you needed to be chained to your PC in order to use the service. Netgears soon to be released Skype WiFi phone is sort of a Holy Grail for Web telephony users in that it offers unparalleled FREEDOM for the user. With this WiFi phone, all you need is to get in range of a WiFi network, turn on the phone, and log into your Skype account. No PC needed! The phone ships with Skype software pre-installed. Pricing hasnt been announced yet, but if its along the lines of other relatively inexpensive cordless/wireless Skype setups (i.e., ~$100), I expect sales to
be brisk. In conjunction with this new phone, Netgear is also offering their WPN824 wireless router supposedly designed to optimize throughput and reduce interference for problem-free
Several other handsets, headsets, and other products join the flurry of Skype-related releases. A new USB handset from IPEVO (news - alerts) the Free-1 recently won a design award and is designed for both Macs and Windows PCs. During the holiday season, IPEVO was offering a special discount off the suggested retail price of $30 for the Free-1 go to www.ipevo.com to see if its been extended.
Another new product Icemats (news - alerts) Siberia Multi Headset retails for $79 and comes with exceptionally comfortable large ear-cups and a unidirectional microphone that can be attached to anything, and volume can be adjusted with a separate control for convenience. The Siberia Multi Headset also includes a mini jack and converter for professional audio equipment.
Venerable Sennheiser Communications (news - alerts) the granddaddy of professional-grade headsets offers nine Skype certified headsets, including the Professional PC 120 headset. Retailing for $30, the PC 120 is an ultra-light, one-sided headset with an integrated volume control and microphone mute switch.
Philips Electronics (news - alerts) introduced a new cordless Internet phone, the VoIP321. The new phone has dual functionality so consumers can make free Skype calls, as well as ordinary landline calls. The Internet phone operates on Digitally Enhanced Cordless Telephone (DECT) technology, the cordless standard typically used in Europe.
Aliphs (news - alerts) new Jawbone PC Edition VoIP communications headset integrates Aliphs military-grade audio processing and product design to help eliminate background noise. The device has a metal outer edge that protects the internal electronics, while the inside surface is made of medical-grade plastic to provide a comfortable, soft, and smooth feel on the skin. The new Jawbone is PC-compatible and uses a USB 1.1- or 2.0-enabled host device and co-located standard three-conductor, 3.5mm mini-microphone and headphone plug ports, and is available for limited time for $79.95.
Other notable Skype-certified products that have been available for a while include:
Linksys (news - alerts) CIT200 Internet Telephony Kit This is a cordless phone that plugs into your PCs USB port and allows you to take Skype calls from anyplace in your home or office. Its bundled with a voucher for 60 free SkypeOut minutes, and has a suggested retail price of $129.
Motorola quote - news - alerts Wireless Internet Calling Kit This is a wireless headset and PC adapter bundle, which allows you to make Skype calls while wirelessly connected to your PC. The same headset will also work with your Bluetooth cell phone. The headset is bundled with a voucher for 30 free SkypeOut minutes, and has a suggested retail price of $99.
VoIPvoice (news - alerts) Cyberphone-K This is a USB handset that plugs into your computers USB port and indicates the phones connection and off-hook condition. It also features an invisible hook switch with proximity sensing for an intuitive start and end to calls. A PC sound card is not required, and calls can be made while listening to music on the computer. The Cyberphone-K has a suggested retail price of $50.
RTX (news - alerts) DUALPhone This is a cordless phone that plugs into your computer and landline at the same time, which allows you to make and take Skype and landline calls from the same phone. It has a suggested retail price of $139.
Logitech (news - alerts)QuickCam Fusion and QuickCam for Notebooks Designed for desktop or notebook computers, these 1.3 megapixel Web cameras work with Skype and offer a free directory of characters and avatars that track your face and follow your movements. These Webcams have a suggested retail price of $99.
Skype (news - alerts) Starter Pack Available at the Skype online store and at RadioShack for $9.99, the Skype Starter Pack includes a Skype-enabled headset with microphone and 30 SkypeOut minutes to call any number anywhere in the world.
With all the above and more on the way, consumers now have a wealth of cool devices to make Web telephony services like Skype not just smart because of the low-cost factor, but also far more appealing and attractive than the plain vanilla POTS service they supplant. As if the incumbent telcos didnt have enough reasons for a migraine. IT
Marc Robins is Chief Evangelism Officer of Robins Consulting Group, which offers an array of services to the IP telephony industry. He has been involved in the telecommunications industry as a reporter and analyst, trade show producer and publisher, and marketing executive and consultant for more than 24 years. For more information, call RCG at 718-548-7245 or e-mail [email protected]