Skype Makes USB Phone Push

Skype wants to build up support for its VoIP service on phones so its bringing one of its Asian partners in to fill the gap, officials announced Wednesday.

The expanded partnership with Taiwanese Internet portal giant PChome Online’s subsidiary Ipevo is the second phone-related partnership from the free Internet communications company in as many days.

Ipevo sells a range of Skype-certified corded and wireless phones that plug into the PC through a USB port. The relationship calls for Ipevo to develop and sell its wares to the U.S. and Taiwanese markets.

The PChome Online relationship has been a good one for both sides, which entered a co-branding partnership in 2004; it brought in 2.4 million registered Skype users and 7.5 million downloads in the past 15 months.

PChome Online, on the other hand, has been able to build new features into its line thanks to continuous updates of the Skype API , such as more control over the user interface and application-to-application communications found in Skype 1.4.

“Skype and IPEVO have established a strong and mutually beneficial partnership,” Hung Tze Jan, Ipevo chairman, said in a statement. “Skype’s developer program has facilitated our ability to address customers’ needs for well-designed and competitively priced devices.”

Skype, in the middle of a $2.6 billion acquisition by e-commerce giant eBay , also announced a bundled phone offering with home networking specialists Linksys Tuesday.

According to Skype officials, the Internet Telephony Kit (CIT200) is the first Skype-enabled product bundled with a Skype starter pack. The kit includes the Skype software and new-user wizards, 63 free SkypeOut minutes, charging unit and base station.

Linksys, a division of Cisco Systems , is branching out from its home networking expertise thanks to the $68 million acquisition of Sipura Technology in April.

The CIT200 is the first USB phone for Linksys, though officials plan to launch a number of consumer- and business-centric phones in the coming months.

“The key rationale [for going with Skype] was taking the number one player in the home networking space and the number one player in peer-to-peer VoIP and making a very powerful combination,” said Tarun Loomba, Linksys senior direct of product management. “The relationship we’re driving with this first initial product is to give a glimpse at what the power of this could be.”

Skype has made a killing in the VoIP arena. According to an August report by broadband network manufacturer Sandvine, the VoIP provider leads the pack of 1,100 identified providers in North America with nearly 36 percent of all VoIP traffic. Consumer-based offerings by Microsoft , Yahoo and AOL are distant seconds, the report stated.

While the company is known more for its software enabling PC-to-PC communications for free — with optional premium services — Skype has partnerships with a number of phone manufacturers including Motorola and Siemens .

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