Inexpensive Skype Handsets Reach US

A Taiwanese start-up began selling handsets used with Skype’s popular Internet phone calling software in the U.S. early this month for about half the price of rival products.

Ipevo Inc., which is based in San Jose, California, hopes its low prices, along with the hype surrounding eBay Inc.’s recent US$2.6 billion purchase of Skype Technologies SA, will help increase its exposure to users in the U.S.

"Ipevo just started in October and we’re nobody to U.S. consumers, plus we only sell our products form our Web site -- which is where we think buyers can get the best deal. We need to work with Skype and even eBay to let Skype users in the U.S. know about us and our products," said Robert Lo, chief operating officer at Ipevo.

The company, which has been wildly successful in Taiwan, currently offers two USB (universal serial bus) handset models to U.S. users from its Web site, http://www.ipevo.com: the Free-1, which comes in black or white for US$29.99, or two for US$54.99; and the Touch-1, in the same two colors, for US$15.99, or two for $29.99.

Comparable products sold by Skype’s own store, http://www.skype.com/store/accessories/, cost $59.99 for the CyberPhone K, and €54.50 (US$66) for the Simply Phone.

Sales of Ipevo’s latest product, the Free-1, were so brisk on its home island of Taiwan, that stores quickly sold out of initial batches of the phones.

The Free-1 phones are designed to make Internet phone calls easy. They plug into a PC or laptop through a USB port, and by pressing a button on the phone Skype is launched, ready for PC to PC voice calls over the Internet. For SkypeOut, users need only to press a large "+" key, and then they can make calls to telephones.

The secret to Ipevo’s success in Taiwan was its parent company, PCHome Online Inc., which operates one of Taiwan’s most popular Web portals.

PCHome collaborated with Skype to offer a Chinese-language version of the software on its site, which has been downloaded 7.5 million times since the middle of last year, and gained 2.4 million registered users, according to PCHome.

Skype’s software and basic PC to PC voice calls are free, one reason for its popularity. Its paid-for services, such as SkypeOut, Skype Voicemail and SkypeIn, have attracted 200,000 Taiwanese customers, PCHome says.

The U.S. could become a major market for makers of phones and accessories for Skype. The U.S. has the highest number of registered Skype users in the world, according to Sara Myers, a Skype representative. The Luxembourg company would not break down the number of people who have downloaded its software by country or region, but its Web site says the total figure stands at over 185 million copies.

Ipevo plans to offer a wide range of devices aimed at Skype users, including cordless handsets, speaker phones and mobile devices, which it intends to sell online.

A number of major companies offer accessories for Skype and other kinds of VoIP software, including Siemens AG and Cisco Systems Inc.

By Dan Nystedt, IDG News Service

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