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Better quality promised for mobile Skype calls

But will mobile operators welcome VoIP?

Software in the Skype PC client that enhances call quality is now coming to dedicated devices such as mobile phones that use the peer-to-peer voice service.

Gips (Global IP Sound) has announced a deal with Skype, a unit of eBay, in which it will license its Gips VoiceEngine software to manufacturers of Skype-compatible devices. Skype licensed Gips' technology in 2003 for its PC VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) software, but until now, non-PC devices that can make Skype calls haven't had it. The deal will put Gips VoiceEngine into software Skype provides for devices such as mobile handsets and ATAs (analogue telephone adapters), said Gary Hermansen, president and chief executive officer of Gips, in San Francisco.

Skype calls on mobile devices already sound pretty good, and the addition of the Gips technology should provide an incremental boost, said IDC analyst Will Stofega. Skype could be both a threat and a partner to mobile operators looking to VoIP, he believes. Some mobile carriers will try to block the service, but others may offer it as a supplement to their regular services or put the popular Skype interface on top of their own mobile-phone operating system, he said. International mobile provider Hutchison 3 Group announced in February it would start enabling Skype on its 3G (third-generation) mobile network as an additional choice for customers.

Skype, free software that allows free calls among Skype users, has helped to spur the growing popularity of VoIP. Carriers have been breaking voice calls into IP packets for years in the core of their networks, but this type of call is now common all the way across networks through service providers such as Vonage.

Miss the Echo

Gips was founded in 1999 and started in network cores, Hermansen said. Nortel Networks is still its biggest customer. VoiceEngine is a media processing software framework that includes codecs (compression-decompression algorithms) and other components. It is designed to solve problems such as echo and choppy sound that can happen because data networks aren't designed to carry voice.

Skype originally worked just on PCs but is now available on devices such as cordless phones and ATAs, which link traditional phones to broadband connections for VoIP calls. VoIP is now spreading to mobile devices such as dedicated Wi-Fi handsets and dual-mode mobile/Wi-Fi phones. They give users a way to make mobile calls without paying for minutes and in some cases to get better call quality where cellular coverage is weak. Some mobile operators are looking to Wi-Fi as a way to extend their coverage, spread out demand for data capacity and keep customers happy.

Device makers are ahead of the curve, already selling handheld VoIP devices. Samsung recently agreed to use Gips VoiceEngine in upcoming dual-mode mobile and Wi-Fi phones as well as ATAs. This month Gips announced a key deal with Texas Instruments to get its codecs into TI's chips, which are widely used in ATAs and mobile phones.

But devices such as the Linksys Internet Telephony Kit that use Skype haven't included the GIPS software that is in every downloaded Skype PC client, Hermansen said. Under the deal announced Monday, GIPS would approach vendors such as Linksys, a Cisco division, to license that technology.


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