Last month, Verizon and Verizon Wireless announced that they were working together to bring a mobile version of Skype to users of BlackBerry and Android handsets on the Verizon network. Today at the CTIA Wireless show in Las Vegas, they’re divulging the details, including the precise timeframe: Skype Mobile will begin to be available for download this Thursday at 3am ET.
Russ Shaw, general manager for mobile at Skype, told me that the version of Skype that BlackBerry- and Android-toting Verizon customers will get has been optimized for the Verizon network and the devices in question. For instance, it runs in the background in always-on mode, but won’t drain the battery too quickly, he said.
I got a sneak peek at the app on BlackBerry and Android, and it looked…well, like Skype. As long as you have a data plan, you can make Skype-to-Skype calls and use IM over 3G at no additional cost. You can also make Skype Out international calls at the same cheap rates you’d pay via Skype on any other device. The brief test call I made sounded good.
But this version of Skype isn’t without meaningful limitations. You can’t make Skype Out calls to U.S. numbers–if you try, the app will let you route your call over Verizon’s voice network, where it’ll use minutes from your plan. You also can’t use Skype In to receive calls from landlines and cell phones: Incoming calls must come from other Skype users. And for reasons I don’t completely understand, Skype Mobile works only over Verizon’s 3G network, not Wi-Fi–which is the opposite of the situation on the iPhone, where you can only call over Wi-Fi, not the AT&T network.
Oh, and it doesn’t do video calling–which is no surprise considering that none of the handsets in question have front-facing cameras.
Shaw told me that this initial version of Skype Mobile for Verizon is the beginning of the Skype-Verizon relationship, and it’s possible that Wi-Fi calling and other features will come along later. Support for other smartphones on Verizon is in the works. And Skype hopes to have an Android app available later this year that it will distribute directly to consumers for use on carriers other than Verizon.
When I first heard about the Skype-Verizon deal, I had visions of using Skype Mobile in tandem with Google Voice to create a sort of supernumber–a phone number I could use in virtually any way that suited me, including on my Droid without using up all my Verizon minutes. That’s not going to be possible, and that helps to explain why Verizon sees working with Skype as an opportunity rather than sleeping with the enemy.
It still looks useful, though–I’m looking forward to trying it out day after tomorrow.