UK hotspot provider Broadreach is offering free Internet calls with Skype to Wi-Fi users at railway stations and other venues. The deal lets anyone running the Skype client make phone calls straight away at 350 ReadytoSurf hotspots, without registration. Any other Internet application needs a subscription or a voucher.
"It's a win-win-win deal," said Niklas Zennstrom, chief executive of Skype, at the launch in a cafe at Paddington station. The customer gets free phone calls, Skype can offer a better service, and Broadreach should do more business, as free Skype will encourage people to open their laptops or turn on their PDAs, he explained.
"We both have an opportunity to up-sell," said Zennstrom. Skype users will be tempted to buy the SkypeOut service, which allows them to pay a cheap rate for calls to non-Skype users. "Once they have Skype running, they will probably want to do email and use the Web," said Magnus McEwen-King, chief executive of Broadreach. When they open these applications, they will get re-directed to a registration page for the paid-for ReadytoSurf service.
The two companies were cagey about any financial side of the deal, but it appears no money is changing hands. Both use pre-paid vouchers for their services, and the CEOs hinted that in future, users might be able to spend Broadreach credit on SkypeOut calls and vice versa.
Broadreach has the ability to single out and authenticate one application for free passage, because it has specified this sort of ability in its network of access points from Collubris, said McEwen-King. "We can partition off bandwidth and authenticate with the Skype client, to offer Skype for free."
The company already offers multiple wireless services, with the railway, the cafe and other businesses at Paddington running private networks on the same access points, using separate SSIDs. "Public Wi-Fi is only one service we offer," said McEwen-King.