It's been nearly six months since Apple gave 3G VoIP calls the green light, and Skype is just now following in the footsteps of VoIP clients like Fring and iCall by turning on support for calls over the data network with its own contribution: Skype for iPhone 2.0.
There's just one catch: Skype's 3G calling is only on a trial basis for now. In early 2011, the VoIP company will levy a "small monthly fee," the amount of which remains undecided for now, according to online reports. Skype has not yet released information explaining how they'll charge for the service, but we're guessing subscribers will sign up through in-app purchasing.
Skype 2.0 for iPhone in a 3G voice test
I made some Skype calls over 3G to test out the sound quality while walking outside in a residential neighborhood and placing a call to Skype on an indoor PC. Call quality was strong during our test call, and we noticed that a call quality indicator on the app interface popped up to alert us to changes in service when we hit AT&T disruptions. The alert was useful, but only because I had turned on speakerphone to keep my eyes on the app. Had I pressed the iPhone to my ear or had the screen dimmed, a visual pop-up would have had little effect managing my expectations.
As it was, voices sounded natural and clear, and neither the caller nor I noticed any lag time. This certainly bodes well for Skype's claim to have upgraded Skype-to-Skype calls to "near CD-quality" sound, though I wasn't immediately able to test the service on an international call.
Is it worth the price?
3G calling on Skype's iPhone app is certainly useful, especially when signal is strong but Wi-Fi is nowhere in sight. But will paying up be worth it to callers, even if the fee is a nominal $5 a month?
By charging for calls, Skype is setting itself up for two things.
First, forcing a 3G subscription plan leverages a value proposition for international callers only, while foreshortening it for domestic callers. Skype will likely charge international callers far less to use its service than would the carriers when people are making a direct call. But for domestic callers, the benefits are far murkier. If Skype's goal is to get people to use its service, what incentive is there for domestic callers who already pay for a full data plan to dole out extra to make the same 3G calls over Skype's network?
Paying for international calls over 3G does provide a service, and it's perfectly fair for Skype to charge for those services the same way it might for calls made to landlines and mobile phones. (Skype-to-Skype calls over Wi-Fi will remain free.)
In addition, callers who already pay a premium to call landline and mobile numbers using Skype credit would surely frown on an additional surcharge to place calls over 3G.
As a second foreseeable consequence, pushing callers to subscribe for Skype's service may encourage callers to use other services, like Fring, which uses Skype's service, along with others, as part of its multinetwork chat and VoIP app. Not only has Fring already allowed callers to tap Skype's services for 3G calling on iPhone for the past six months, it also has two-way video calling--a feature Skype for iPhone does not.
Skype first introduced 3G calling in Skype Mobile, an app made available in late March for select BlackBerry and Android handsets on the U.S. Verizon network (video). As part of the Verizon deal, callers do not pay additional fees for 3G Skype calls.