At the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona today, Nokia announced that their new N97 smartphones will come preloaded with Skype, the popular voice over IP (VoIP) software — a radical shift for Nokia and a major business coup for Skype.
Telecom companies have resisted explicit support for VoIP programs such as Skype because of the potential for lost revenue. Of course, most mobile carriers do not charge for long distance calls within the continental U.S., but international calls are often very costly. For example, AT&T charges about $1.99/minute for most calls to Europe. This is where Skype can help.
Skype allows you to make free calls to other Skype users, using VoIP over the internet. This implies that you have internet access from your mobile phone, but for most smart phones this is a given. You can also make Skype calls to any landline or mobile phone, but for this, there is a per minute charge via Skype credits. The cost per minute varies depending on your location and where you're calling to, but usually it's a few pennies per minute–a substantial savings over most international telecom rates.
It will be interesting to see how well the Nokia/Skype agreement is accepted by the telecom carriers in the coming months.