Skype 2.0 for iPhone enables free calls over 3G -- for now

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Several months after AT&T relaxed its restrictions on the ability of voice-over-IP apps to make calls over the company’s 3G network, Skype has released version 2.0 of its client software for the iPhone.

The only major feature introduced by the update is support for calling over 3G networks, which the software maker had been promising at least since last February. While many of its competitors have already made the necessary changes to enable 3G calling, Luxembourg-based Skype has taken a more deliberate approach to the process so that it could include support for its SILK codec, which delivers near-CD quality and can compensate for network latency to offer the best call quality possible.

While the news of the app’s availability is likely to be welcome by iPhone users, the fact that it will eventually come at a price may not be. According to the release notes that accompany the update, Skype-to-Skype calling over 3G is currently free, but only until August, when an as yet unspecified “small monthly fee” will kick in.

While the company currently charges customers for calls to the public switched phone network, calls between two Skype users have so far been completely free on both desktop and mobile clients (and will, presumably, remain to do so on the iPhone, too, as long as they occur over Wi-Fi). The new fee could signal that Skype’s new owners, led by investor group Silver Lake, are looking at new ways to monetize the telephony service to improve its performance after it floundered under eBay’s leadership.

Skype 2.0 for iPhone, which also includes a few minor bug fixes and performance improvements, requires iPhone OS 3.0 or later and works on iPod touch, iPhone and iPad in iPhone-compatibility mode.

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