Will 3's Skypephone change mobiles forever?

Free calls from your mobile phone are on the way as Skype and mobile operator 3 today launched the Skypephone. The move is likely to change the way mobile operators think and will change the mobile industry forever.

3 is unlikely to make vast amounts of money by adding Skype to its handsets. The mobile industry makes most of its calls from voice calls and text messages rather than handsets, which are often subsidised to attract customers. 3 thinks it's on to something much more important, however.

"It's all about customer loyalty towards the brand," Kevin Russell, CEO of 3 UK, told Tech.co.uk at this morning's 3 Skypephone launch in London.

Happy customers

"It doesn't cost us much to add Skype functionalities to our mobile handsets, but in return we get happy customers who are likely to stay with us, and spend money on other calls and services too. I think community-based services will be a big thing for mobiles in the future."

Skype said that it wants to add its services to handsets from other operators too, but that it has yet to convince operators that it is a good idea.

"Some operators we've spoken to have told us to go away, and that they're not interested in adding our software to their phones," Michael van Swaaij, acting CEO of Skype, told us.

One-button access

VoIP telephony on mobile phones has been a frustrating, complicated experience up until now. The 3 Skypephone, however, keeps you logged in from the moment you sign in, and there's just one button to press to access all your contacts, make calls, start chats, and so on.

There are no different accounts to access, no tedious signing in process, or switching between handsets to make free VoIP calls. To 3 and Skype's credit, VoIP becomes a seamless experience.

3's bold move could change the way the mobile industry views VoIP. Apple seems to have been thinking along the same lines when it announced free Wi-Fi for its iPhone in the UK. At the very least, 3's tie-in with Skype gets the publicity machine rolling at a time when everybody is talking about Apple.

We secured a review sample at this morning's launch and will give you the full low-down on the Skypephone in a few days.