Taiwan's Accton plans to launch two wireless handsets by the middle of February that allow users to place calls over the internet at little or no cost, potentially beating US rival Netgear to market with the first Wi-Fi phones designed for VoIP (voice over IP).
Wi-Fi handsets put a new twist on internet phone calling by freeing users from having to carry around a notebook PC in order to make a VoIP call. Existing phones designed for Skype and other VoIP services must be connected to a computer. Accton's phones don't have to be, although they do require a Wi-Fi signal, which isn't always readily available.
Both of the Accton handsets allow users to make calls wherever they're connected to a wireless internet access point, whether they're at home, at a café or another public Wi-Fi hotspot.
One of them, the VM1185T WiFy SkyFone, comes with a built-in version of Skype's popular internet calling software. Accton's other phone, the VM1188T VoWi-Fi, isn't designed for Skype but will also allow users to place internet phone calls using Wi-Fi.
The handsets will cost around $100 to $150 (about £55 to £85) each, said Alan Ma, a sales manager at Accton, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The company plans to market the phones in the US and Europe first, followed by Asia, he said.
Both phones work with the 802.11b/g Wi-Fi standards and can manage four hours of talk time or 80 hours of standby time before needing a recharge, according to Accton. The company plans to offer a recharge cradle for the handsets that doubles as a Wi-Fi access point.
Accton's handsets could beat out a similar Wi-Fi phone coming from Netgear. During CES, Netgear and Skype jointly announced a Wi-Fi phone designed with Skype software built in. A Netgear representative at the electronics show said pricing information was not yet available.
Users of Skype's popular software can make free domestic and international voice calls, as well as chat and hold conference calls with other Skype users anywhere in the world. Calls to landlines require a small fee.
Last September, internet auction website eBay agreed to pay $2.6bn (£1.5bn) to acquire Skype in a deal the companies billed as a way for Skype to expand its user base.