For various reasons, Skype isn't yet ready to roll on a real mass-market mobile device. We found a way to get it mobile within the office, using trusted technology.
Skype has a mobile client that runs on Wi-Fi enabled Windows Mobile devices, which is already being bundled with phones from Motorola and Carrier Devices. We tried the Skype mobile client last month, in order to compare it with Cicero's CiceroPhone (read that review here) but we don't think it - or the Wi-Fi handsets that it runs on - are good enough for general use as mobile VoIP phones.
Within the building however, there are more options. There are DECT VoIP phones, such as Linksys' CIT200, of the Olympia Skype phone which connect by USB, and provide a cordless connection to Skype or other VoIP services.
However, there are also ways to run Skype through existing phones, including cordless DECT phones. A year ago, Siemens launched a USB Skype-to-phone device, that used a Skype API, but only worked with Siemens' own Gigaset phones.
Now, ActionTec has produced a £40 gadget - a four-and a half inch box which plugs into any phone, and lets it make and receive Skype calls.
We have tried the Internet Phone Wizard, and pronounce it cheap and very useable. The company has done a proper job of hiding the complexity, yet covering enough of the options. Using the device extends both Skype and our conventional phone, without compromising either.
Installation is utterly simple. The Phone Wizard connects to a USB socket and the software installed easily (for Windows XP or Windows 2000). A normal phone can then be plugged into the Phone Wizard, and used to make Skype calls.
As far as the computer is concerned, the Internet Phone Wizard installs as a USB audio device. A small program runs on the PC, with an icon in the system tray on screen.
When the handset is lifted, if Skype is running, it pops to the front of the screen, and Internet dial-tone sounds in the phone. If Skype isn't running, the Phone Wizard launches, it and logs in, so the dial-tone appears after a few seconds.
At the PC, Skype calls can be made in the normal way by keyboard and/or mouse. Away from the PC, numbers can be dialled using the phone keypad.
We used a bog-standard DECT cordless - a BT Diverse X1, which gave us Internet dial-tone in any room in the house. Using SkypeOut - Skype's paid-for gateway to normal numbers - we dialled "regular" calls (remembering that SkypeOut requires a full international number). For Skype calls, we assigned speed dials which worked on the phone handset. For incoming calls, the phone rang as normal.
So far so good, but a cordless which only works when the PC is turned on is of limited value. The Wizard lets the phone double for conventional calls as well as Internet calls - simply by plugging a phone line into a second socket on the Phone Wizard.
The unit switches between Skype and regular phone mode when the hash key is pressed twice. The Internet dial-tone has a different pitch to conventional dial-tone, so you can tell which you are using.
This effectively produces a separate phone line: if we picked up the cordless to find a call already in progress from a different extension, we could just press "hash-hash" and call on the Internet. If a regular call comes in while an Internet call is in progress, it is possible to switch over to it.
If the computer isn't on, or Skype can't launch for some reason, the ordinary phone line is there.
Regular and Internet calls both ring the phone, but lights on the Phone Wizard tell you the source of a given call.
The limitation of the kit is that the display of the DECT phone obviously can't be linked to the Skype software. To have a cordless phone that shows your Skype contacts, instead of having to remember presets, would require a purpose-built Skype phone, such as the Olympia (now around £80), or the more up-market Siemens phones.
If you want to route regular and Skype calls through one phone, this is a very cheap, intuitive and effective way to do it.