In a sign of the increasing popularity of VoIP phone service, Skype announced a distribution deal with the giant Wal-Mart chain of stores this week.
Under the agreement, the voice communications area of 1,800 Wal-Mart stores in the U.S. will carry Skype-certified hardware, including headsets, webcams, and handsets designed to work with Skype, the popular Internet phone service provider. Wal-Mart will also now carry the first line of pre-paid calling cards for Skype available in the U.S.
A Skype spokesperson said the deal is not exclusive, and the company is pleased with a distribution deal launched in 2005 that it has with Radio Shack stores. "The significance of this deal is that it's the first time Skype has worked with a major retailer on a dedicated section for hardware and pre-paid calling cards," she said.
"This deal came together not only because of our own interest in promoting our brand and our partners, but because Wal-Mart (Quote) is also interested in the growing community of Internet users," added the spokesperson.
She said that while Skype made the overall deal with Wal-Mart, the individual hardware suppliers participating are dealing directly with Wal-Mart as to selection of products and sales terms.
Up to nine different Skype-Certified hardware products are now available within the Skype Internet Communications sections at Wal-Mart stores electronics department. The selection includes Skype certified headsets for less than $15, webcams less than $25 and handsets less than $30 from brand names such as Plantronics, Philips, Logitech and others.
"We have taken a sharp focus to launch the products and brands that consumers are moving toward at the most affordable prices," said Kevin O'Connor, vice president and general merchandise manager, Wal-Mart Electronics, in a statement.
"The Skype hardware and pre-paid cards are a great fit with Wal-Mart because they offer long-term money-saving solutions at the right time for many customers -- parents, grandparents, college students and military families," said O'Connor.
Skype offers a year long unlimited calling plan for $29.95. The pre-paid calling cards at Wal-Mart include a new three-month subscription to the Skype Unlimited Calling Plan for $8.85. This subscription gives consumers three months of unlimited Skype calls to any landline or cell phone number in the U.S. and Canada.
Another prepaid ($20) card can be redeemed for Skype credit to make inexpensive international calls at rates the company said can be as low as 2.1 cents per minute. Skype has been reaching out in many directions to expand its presence. Earlier this month the company announced a deal with Salesforce.com.
About 9.9 percent of all landlines in the U.S. were VoIP lines in 2006, but that figure is expected to rise to 34.1 percent by 2010, according to the Telecommunications Industry Association. VoIP pioneer and market leader Skype, an eBay company, said it has more than 196 million registered customers around the world.
Adapted from voipplanet.com.
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