Skype starts voicemail beta testing

Critical feature brings Skype closer to telco products

The internet telephony David expected to slay the telco Goliaths, Skype, has added a critical feature missing on its voice over IP freeware: voicemail.

Existing users are asked to try out Skype Voicemail for free over a period of a month through emailed vouchers. After the free month has passed, Skype will charge for the voicemail service at a rate yet to be determined.

Voicemail testers will need to use the latest beta version of Skype for Windows. While Linux and Mac OS X users cannot try out the voicemail yet, they can leave messages on Windows Skype users’ machines. Voicemail on Skype for Windows Pocket PC is not supported yet, however.

Voicemail messages of up to 60 seconds duration will be stored locally on users’ computers, with the main privacy settings in Skype determining who can leave messages. The messages cannot be exported as standard MP3 or WAV sound files at this stage, however.

Skype spokeswoman Kelly Larabee says the voicemail offer has only gone out to a small group of current users, and not all Skype customers, as the product is still in its trial and testing phase. She declined to comment further.

Skype is also preparing the SkypeIn service. This allows PSTN customers to call Skype users. Currently, Skype users can call PSTN customers for a charge, but not vice versa.

Skype currently reports that is has had over 57 million downloads of its free peer-to-peer telephony software. Market researchers say there are around 15 million Skype users today. However, the expected number will be anywhere between 140 million and 245 million by 2008, figures which would cut into traditional telco profitability by around a quarter.

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