As expected, Voice Over IP devices had a big presence at this year's CES. As paid services such as Vonage and those offered by cable companies nationwide continue to gain market share, more Americans are getting used to the idea of paying drastically less for long-distance and international calls.
An exciting overlap developing here in Las Vegas is the pairing of VoIP—a service most commonly used in the home—and your everyday mobile phone. One such device which has managed to slip under the radar—likely because it is still without a U.S. distributor—is the Qool SkyCube, a Singaporean import that acts as a bridge between your PC-based Skype service, your landline and your GSM mobile phone (like those from T-Mobile or Cingular) via a SIM card slot. Enough acronyms for you?
Basically, the SkyQube is a device that's built to always ensure you're using the most inexpensive phone service possible. If you're at home, you can pop your SIM card into the 'Qube and redirect your incoming calls through Skype, saving precious cell minutes. If you're traveling internationally, pick up a cheap pay-per-use domestic SIM card and have all your calls forwarded, again saving roaming and long distance charges. The device also supports text messaging, allowing you to send it an SMS instructing it to place a potentially expensive international call via Skype and have it call you back with the connection.
The bigger mobile players also have this overlap in mind. As more high-end phones are equipped with wi-fi, using cheaper VoIP services when a free wireless network is available will undoubtedly become more common. A dual-mode phone from D-Link (left), available in the first quarter of this year, will be able to switch between wi-fi VoIP and GSM calling with a single button click. Skype itself is expected to launch a similar phone later this year, as well as a version of its client available for Nokia's wi-fi equipped Symbian smartphones. Nokia's brand-new N800 Internet Tablet
, while not a phone, will also soon be able to use a freshly-announced Skype client designed for its Linux operating system, on top of its current VoIP capabilities via the Gizmo Project and Google Talk.
Tech jargon aside, what this means for all of us down the road is greater calling freedom and, most exciting of all, a drastically lower cellphone bill. —John Mahoney