Skype, Tom Online to launch Chinese joint venture

Skype Technologies has expanded its partnership with Beijing-based Tom Online by creating a joint venture that will develop and deliver premium services.

In a move to carve out a chunk of China's nascent market for Internet telephone services, Skype Technologies SA has expanded its partnership with Beijing-based Tom Online Inc. by creating a joint venture that will develop and deliver premium services.

Building on their agreement last year to develop a simplified version of the Skype VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) software in Chinese, the companies plan to offer a number of services that customers can use for a fee, a Skype spokeswoman said Tuesday. She declined to specify what the services will be.

Currently, the Chinese government allows VOIP service only between PC users. That means premium services such as SkypeOut, which allows users to call fixed-line numbers, or SkypeIn, which allows fixed-line callers to make calls to Skype customers, are not presently allowed there. Providing premium services would require permission.

Tom Online, an ISP (Internet service provider) that claims to have more than 70 million customers, will own 51 percent of the joint venture, and Skype the rest. Financial details were not disclosed.

Skype's Chinese language portal, which has been supported by Tom Online, has attracted 3.4 million registered users to date.

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