Open wireless internet hotspots will soon serve as virtual phone booths, as four manufacturers plan to introduce Wi-Fi handsets for Skype's popular VoIP (voice over IP) telephony service this quarter.

The phones can be used at open Wi-Fi access points that do not require browser authentication, and come preloaded with Skype software, Skype said Thursday. The move is designed to give Skype users the mobility of a cell phone, but retain the ability to use the eBay-owned telephony company's free or inexpensive calling rates, Skype said. There is no difference in fees for calls made from Wi-Fi phones than for those made from PCs.

Belkin, Accton's Edge-Core, Netgear, and Standard Microsystems are all introducing the handsets to support the service. The phones will hit the market in the third quarter, Skype said, and will be sold directly from the Skype online store. Edge-Core's phone, which features and a colour LCD (liquid crystal display) screen, carries a suggested retail price of €199 (about £135), excluding VAT. Netgear's phone is displayed on the Skype store, listed as 'coming soon' and priced at £140 inc VAT.