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Buzz Me Baby! reviews the Wi-Fi-based Belkin Skype phone: The phone can connect to a Wi-Fi network to log into a Skype account and provide the same set of features available via a PC-based Skype client. The review is generally positive about the hardware, and says that call quality is generally good. Calls made via SkypeOut, from the Skype network to the public switch telephone network, had some latency compared to computer-based SkypeOut calls when you were speaking with cell phone users.
While the review mentions that you can use WEP and WPA to authenticate to a protected Wi-Fi network, it doesn’t note that open networks that require a Web page clickthrough are offlimits; there’s no microbrowser or other control onboard that would allow this. This eliminates quite a few free hotspots that require a click to agree to the terms of service or a splash-page clickthrough, or that require viewing ads to obtain free service.
The phone runs $179 at Amazon.com.
The New York Times weighs in on voice over Wi-Fi in the wild: Matt Richtel files a lighthearted story about using a Wi-Fi phone from Belkin that handles Skype voice calls. He notes that it will be increasingly likely that strangers might use unprotected Wi-Fi networks to make phone calls—which will probably disappoint those piggybackers. While purposely public Wi-Fi networks will be located in places that people will frequent and typically designed to provide strong signal strength throughout an area, a hijacked signal might ebb and flow and not be great for phone calls.
That’s why there’s such interest in UMA (unlicensed mobile access) and similar technologies or approaches that will allow either seamless or manually switched service on both cell and Wi-Fi networks. A weak signal on one leads to usage on the other. T-Mobile, as noted in the article, has an offering available just in my home market of Seattle right now; Richtel says the service is in testing, but it’s actually commercially available for purpose at any T-Mobile corporate-owned store and perhaps their affiliates. I’ve only checked with the corporate stores.
Cicero will release client software for the Series 60 Symbian phones for a kind of converged calling: Their software won’t support UMA (unlicensed mobile access), but it will work in a similar manner, requiring cellular operators to install back-office/back-end software to handle handoffs and accounting. Hello AS in Norway and Messagenet in Italy are the first two operators using the service—I had previously thought they were using UMA—and Cicero says 30 additional mostly European operators are in trials, with an Asian operator having a near-term launch.