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Summary:

An updated Skype client for Google Android devices is available today with two notable improvements: a security patch and support for voice calls over 3G networks around the world, including the U.S. Could Skype be planning a data-only handset for voice calls over mobile broadband?

skype-android-featured

An updated Skype client for Google Android devices is available beginning Wednesday, with two notable improvements: a security patch and support for voice calls over 3G networks around the world, including the U.S. The free software, found in Google’s Android Market, includes mobile calls on the Skype network, instant message text chat, call forwarding, voicemail, and low-rate calls to mobile numbers and landlines. Wider adoption of 3G voice calls for Skype could hint at a future Skype phone.

The newest client patches a security hole that was found last week and acknowledged by the Skype team. Essentially, a third-party application could exploit the fact that both Skype profile information and instant messages were cached locally and unprotected on a handset. Using software, this exposed data could be captured and sent elsewhere, without the handset owner’s knowledge. With today’s update, the data is now protected and can’t be exploited by a third-party application.

Closing the security gap is important, but so too is support for calls over mobile broadband networks in the U.S. Last year, Skype partnered exclusively with Verizon Wireless as the only carrier to allow 3G Skype calls, thus limiting Skype usage on other networks here. Hacks and workarounds could be used to enable 3G Skype calls on other carrier networks, but those are no longer needed due to the most recent software update.

Adding support for Skype calls could be the final puzzle piece in my mobile communications plan. I often carry the Samsung Galaxy Tab, a 7-inch Android tablet, with me everywhere. The device can do everything my smartphone does: run the same apps, use location-based services with GPS, surf the web and more. But the one key item it can’t do, and the main reason I still take a smartphone along with me, is easily handle voice calls. The functionality is there in terms of hardware, but it’s blocked by Samsung, likely at the request of the U.S carriers. In some other countries, Galaxy Tab owners can and do use the tablet for cellular voice calls.

With the latest Skype update and support for 3G calling, however, I may be able to get away with only carrying my tablet. I’ve successfully tested Google Voice forwarding to my SkypeIn number, so with a single phone number, voice calls could be routed to my tablet while on a 3G network. Does this set up the potential for a potential Skype-branded handset in the future? If the company can work another carrier deal — this time a data-only plan with no voice requirement — Skype could potentially power mobile conversations over Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G and beyond.

I’ve already tested the new update on my Tab and had a voice call over T-Mobile’s 3G network with my son this morning. The call sounded like any other voice call on a cellular network, but used only the data portion of T-Mobile’s network. Using Skype’s newest software, my smartphone just might have gained a 7-inch display, although I’ll have to test this solution over a longer term.

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  1. This is great info…thanx!

  2. I have the Galaxy Tab on Sprint and it seems to be working fine. Maybe I don’t need a Nexus S 4G.

  3. Might work, but keeping skype running 24×7 drains your battery fairly quickly, and it gets suspended due to resource constraints while you’re doing something else and you miss a call or two…

    What it really needs to replace the phone is a fast and reliable push notification system…

    1. Darren, I suspect you’re right: having Skype run all the time would likely hit the battery hard. But for my use case (which I readily admit isn’t everyone else’s), I don’t need Skype running all the time. When it is running, I’m reachable, of course. But by using Google Voice as my primary number, I can leave Skype off and get notifications when someone has called me and then return the call if needed. My wife and I both work from home, so I know she’s not calling me and pretty much anyone else calling wouldn’t be an urgent call. Again, not an ideal situation and not how mainstream consumers act; I simply mention it as a potential solution to the constant battery drain until that push solution you mention (an idea I love BTW!) arrives.

  4. Isn’t Skype integration, like you seem to mention, a strong point of the Nokia N900 (and hopefully their future MeeGo related device)? I don’t know how much a constant 3G on connection will eat up in terms of data per minute or how much a video chat enabled 3G connection eats but the low data ceilings could prove to make it prohibitive. I know that once cellular voice is added to a device it requires a lot more testing from the FCC but I wish they included cellular voice in all Tablets.

  5. It’s a great article. I would love to know more about how it works for you a month or two down the line.

    I am planning to see if I could give up my phone this summer by using a small tablet like the Tab with Google Voice for receiving messages and Skype for outgoing call if people really need a call back.

  6. Kevin, is there any reason Galaxy Tab+Skype would not work on Verizon’s CDMA network.

    1. There’s no reason I can think of. I know that the earlier U.S. version of Skype for Android was limited to Verizon, but that’s no longer the case. Your best bet is to download and try – I would do that for you if I had an Android device on Verizon’s network, but I don’t at the moment. Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful.

      1. I just installed the new skype and made a 3G call with it on my samsung galaxy tab from verizon it worked flawlessly!!!

      2. Updated app works perfectly on my Droid X, both WiFi and 3G.

  7. what about video?
    I downloaded the update and tested the voice but couldnt seem to get video phone-to-phone (Evo 4g & Evo shift) and you make no mention of it in your article. Did you get to test the video chat, does Skype mobile offer that for android?

    1. Kevin C. Tofel me Wednesday, April 20, 2011

      No mention of video because it’s not a supported Skype feature across the entire Android platform yet. At CES, Verizon announced that all of their LTE handsets would gain the feature.

  8. “But the one key item it can’t do, and the main reason I still take a smartphone along with me, is easily handle voice calls. The functionality is there in terms of hardware, but it’s blocked by Samsung, likely at the request of the U.S carriers.”

    It would be nice to see a hard-hitting piece of investigative reporting about this, or a USDOJ anti-trust investigation. It is outrageous that they did this and I would like to seem them punished for it.

  9. Unless I’m missing something, Skype for Android still can’t send out SMS. This is one feature I love on iOS. Being able to send out international texts for cheap is extremely useful to me.

  10. Even if a fully supported, fully functional skype phone became available, skype still charges by the min for calls to non-skype lines.

    For us heavy business talkers, a plan without unlimited miniutes would render it unfeasible.

    Jamie

    1. What are you talking about? Skype offers a wide variety of domestic and international unlimited subscriptions.

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