Skype Technologies' strategy of welcoming third-party vendors is spawning extensions to its internet telephony service. Its now branching into videoconferencing, data collaboration and mobile wireless calls.

This week Santa Cruz Networks launched vSkype Beta – group videoconferencing and collaboration software that lets Skype users meet online with as many as 200 associates who also use Skype.

On Tuesday, a Norwegian company, IPDrum, introduced the Mobile Skype Cable (see Mobile VoIP kit unveiled, 16 June), a wire that connects mobile phones to a Skype-equipped PC in order to link Skype to the network for mobile calls.

"There's kind of a Skype ecosystem developing," said Burton Group analyst Irwin Lazar. "Skype is almost becoming an alternative communications network."

Skype makes peer-to-peer VoIP (voice over IP) software that lets users make free voice calls to any other Skype user on the internet.

The company, based in Luxembourg, doesn't reveal much about how its system works but has published an API (application programming interface) that developers can use to tie in their own software. This has led to a variety of products.

For example, earlier this year London-based Connectotel said it had developed technology that allows SMS (short message service) messages to be sent to users of GSM (global system for mobile communications) handsets via Skype's network.

The vSkype Beta software is available for downloading from and can work on any internet connection that is 56Kbps (kilobits per second) or faster.

The company has developed technology that lets users get the best possible video performance for their network connection, so meeting participants with slower connections can join in with slower frame rates without dragging down the rest of the participants.

The beta software is free; a production version should be available for download in 30 to 60 days.