Outside the U.S., Skype Makes Handset Inroads

nokia-n97-skypeHave the real first steps towards a cellular voice replacement been taken? At this week’s Mobile World Congress, Nokia (s nok) announced a deal that puts Skype on the new Nokia N97 handset by the third quarter of this year. Sony Ericsson will also be offering a Skype panel on the Xperia X1 within the next few weeks.

We’ve long been able to put Skype on handhelds — no, I haven’t forgotten that. Who could forget listening to the other side of the conversation through the loudspeaker of a Pocket PC? This isn’t just about the ability to use Skype on new phones. It’s about the integration of Skype on a voice handset.

Take the Nokia news, for example. You’ll be able to look up contacts in your N97 address book and see their Skype status. From here, you can call them over Wi-Fi or 3G on Skype or start a text chat with them. No longer is Skype simply an “add-on.” It becomes a integrated part of the voice and text communications in your phone.

Webware makes the excellent point that here in the U.S., Skype embedded this much into handsets will face a challenge. Not from consumers, but from the carriers already scrapping for whatever market share they can grab and keep. The two handsets mentioned, Nokia’s N97 and Sony Ericsson’s Xperia X1, will sell far more units outside of the U.S., so both make excellent choices for Skype to move beyond a simple voice add-on. And if you had any hopes of a U.S. carrier ever subsidizing either of these high-end handsets, you’re likely to be on hold. Forever.

Jim Courtney’s new “Voice on the Web” site offers a solid list of pros and cons on this news, as well as some insightful questions yet to be answered. I highly recommend his post, and new blog, if you’re interested in Skype and other other voice-over-IP info!