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Skype app finally delivers on 3G voice calling

Sang Tang

There's good news and a little bit (just a little bit) of bad news. Good news first: the iPhone Skype app has been updated to allow for calls using AT&T's 3G data network.

AT&T's restrictions on cell data usage have evolved over time. Recently, download data caps have been eased, from 10 MB to 20 MB. And since October 2009, VoIP apps have been allowed to use AT&T's data network to place calls.

The elephant in the airwaves, however, has been Skype. Several months after AT&T allowed VoIP apps to use cell data, Skype was still without an update. The company, via a blog posting on its site, stated that it wanted to take the time to ensure that audio fidelity was at the best quality.

I made several calls over AT&T's 3G network this afternoon using the updated app and was surprised at how good the quality was. Each person I spoke with said they could barely tell the difference between this and a call using AT&T's voice network.

Unlike calls made using AT&T's voice network, which use up minutes from the buckets of minutes you're allotted each month, the latest Skype update transmits audio via AT&T's data network. This means that you're using up minutes from your Skype bucket -- assuming you're placing a call from Skype to a conventional phone number via purchased Skype minutes -- or that you're calling another person on Skype for free.

Well, sort of. And this is where I sprinkle the slight bit of bad news.

Unlike WiFi-based Skype-to-Skype calls, 3G-based Skype calls will be free until at least August 2010. After that, there will be a small monthly fee, according to the company. The approach is similar to what they did when the allowed for unlimited domestic calls for several months back in 2006.

With iPhone OS 4.0's enhanced support for VoIP calling and multitasking, Skype's latest update can help shoulder the burden on wallets and purses for those who are heavily dependent on their phones to make a living. For instance, a Skype plan for unlimited calls in the US and Canada is $2.99 a month, compared to $69.99 for unlimited calling using AT&T's network.

Thanks to everyone who sent this in.

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