Hong Kong’s Hutchison Global Communications (HGC) will soon begin offering its broadband fixed line subscribers free calls over the internet after signing a deal with Skype Technologies, the Luxembourg-based company launched over a year ago by the same team behind the controversial file-sharing program Kazaa. Under the deal, the two partners will promote their free VoIP service via a newly formed HGC-Skype web portal, users of which can download Skype’s complimentary VoIP software and use it to make calls to other Skype users free of charge. They can also make calls to any fixed or mobile phone worldwide using the company’s SkypeOut service, a pre-paid offering with international call tariffs as low as USD0.02 a minute which already has around 750,000 customers globally.
The deal marks a major breakthrough for both companies in that it adds an attractive VoIP option to Hutchison’s extensive portfolio of consumer and business related broadband products which are offered over the biggest fibre-optic network in Hong Kong. For Skype, the agreement marks the first of what it hopes will be many deals with national telecoms carriers looking to offer the service to their users. The HGC-Skype portal is due to launch next month and be instantly embraced by Hong Kong’s broadband community. In a press release announcing the deal, Hutchison’s chief executive Peter Wong said he believed that the venture would bring ‘Skype mania’ to the colony.
Skype was created in 2003 by Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, founders of Kazaa, and has received investment from, amongst others, Tim Draper, Draper Fisher Jurvetson ePlanet, Index Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners and Mangrove Capital Partners. It currently claims to have 24 million registered users worldwide, a figure it says is rising by over 130,000 a day. The company has a number of existing business partners, most of which are broadband portals offering co-branded VoIP services. These include the Taiwanese portal PChome Online, which claims to have signed up over a million registered users since its inception in July 2004, and Tom Online in China, which says two million users have signed up since October 2004. Interestingly, both PChome Online and Tom Online are subsidiaries of the Tom Group, which is primarily controlled by Hong Kong businessman Li Ka-Shing, who also holds the controlling stake in HGC. Skype has also forged partnerships with a number of global carriers to provide call termination services, among them COLT, iBasis, Level 3 and Teleglobe.