Internet telephony firm Skype made its first major leap into cellphones on Tuesday, striking a deal with the largest U.S. mobile carrier Verizon Wireless.
Skype's free calls on computers have become an Internet phenomenon since the company was founded in 2002, and it has some 520 million registered users around the globe.
So far it has found little traction on wireless -- with only British operator 3 embracing it -- as most telecoms operators have seen it as a risk to their core business of voice calls.
Verizon and Skype getting together is like Tom and Jerry making peace, said one senior telecoms industry executive, who wished not to be named.
While operators such as AT&T Inc tolerate customers using Skype applications on cellphones, Verizon is the first U.S. operator to actively push the service, which will work on phones such as Research In Motion's BlackBerry.
This is a breakthrough, Skype Chief Executive Josh Silverman told Reuters in an interview.
We sense a real shift in operators thinking. Some operators attitude is rapidly changing, Silverman said.
Verizon said it was looking to win new consumers with the deal.
There are 200 million Americans that are not on our service, that drives us crazy. We think by providing this rich application we will attract a whole new group of users, John Stratton, Verizon's Chief Marketing Officer told Reuters.
When we put out the press notification (on the press conference) on Friday we got all sorts of blog comments like 'when pigs fly', 'when hell freezes over'.
Verizon customers with data service plans will be able to use the Internet telephony service on nine different smartphone models starting next month, Verizon and Skype said at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Tuesday.
The companies said they had created a Skype mobile offering for 3G smart phones allowing users to make unlimited Skype-to-Skype calls on the U.S. carrier's network as well as international calls on Skype calling rates.
This is one way to make customers more sticky to Verizon - reduce churn, said Steven Nathasingh, chief executive of research firm Vaxa Inc.
He said his firm would consider switching from AT&T to Verizon due to the Skype move.