April 15, 2005 11:45 AM PDT

Skype rolls out premium services

Skype has enhanced its popular Net phone application with two new premium features: SkypeIn and Skype Voicemail.

Both have been available in limited tests but are now ready for widespread use for the Windows, Linux, Pocket PC and Mac OS X versions of Skype's free software, which has just reached the 100 million download mark and boasts 35 million registered users.

SkypeIn allows users to buy up to three phone numbers in eight countries--Denmark, Finland, France, Hong Kong, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. People can call them at those numbers from standard or mobile telephones. Skype Voicemail, as the name implies, records messages from callers.


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Along with SkypeOut, which allows Skype users to call standard phones from their computers for a per-minute fee, the company now offers a total of three premium services.

SkypeIn costs $12.90 (10 euros) for three months, or $38.72 for one year. It includes the voice mail feature.

The voice mail feature on its own costs $6.45 for three months or $19.36 for a year.

Both tools are available for purchase on the Skype Web site.

Skype CEO Niklas Zennström told Silicon.com he hopes the new features will increase the amount of time people use Skype and will help "make Skype more and more a primary communications tool."

Skype's voice mail service is much like traditional voice mail in that users can record original outgoing greetings and receive messages up to 10 minutes long. But Zennström says they've already seen testers use it in innovative ways, such as sending voice messages when they know the Skype user will not be around. "We expect people to use it not only as traditional voice mail but as a messaging service," he said. "We have seen people are sending messages directly to voice mail."

Skype stores voice mail messages so users can play them back even when offline--a feature that sets it apart from the third-party "answering machine" add-ons that have been available for some time, according to Zennström. At the same time, he said of the third-party developers: "We definitely encourage them to continue."

James Enck, telecommunications analyst at Daiwa Securities SMBC Europe, has tested the new features and said they work "beautifully." He particularly noted the ability to send voice messages to other users and play them back them offline. "All of this is pretty revolutionary," he said. "It further demonstrates (Skype's) potential to do damage to the telecoms industry."

Zennström said Skype "definitely wants to announce more paid-for features" but that it doesn't have any "immediate plans" as it's been busy developing SkypeIn and voice mail.

As for the new features' effect on Skype usage, Enck said, "I don't know if (the new features) will accelerate adoption, but they will expand the revenues (Skype) can get from the existing user base."

The strategy of adding more and more paid services is "very consistent with what (Skype) said from day one, that 'we don't need that many users to be spending with us,'" Enck added.

"Given a scenario with 100 million registered users," he said, "and maybe 1 million hand you $12.91 a year--that ain't bad, given (the company's) size and that they have effectively no physical assets that incumbents in this space have."

Zennström said the company is also moving forward with its Skype for Business offering, due out later this year. According to Zennström, the company has created a prototype that it's been testing with business users but warned not to expect anything radically different from the consumer version. Instead, he said, Skype is following a model set by mobile operators.

"When (mobile operators) have a mobile-phone service for consumers or business," he said, "it's the same service, but the business service can group users on the same invoice so it's easier to administer. That's what we're looking at immediately, making (Skype) easier to administer (for business users)."

As for making Skype mobile, another possible revenue stream, Zennström said, "We are continuously working on making Skype available on mobile devices but don't have any definite plans at the moment."

Sylvia Carr of Silicon.com reported from London.

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