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Skype brings the world's phones to your desk

Buy a US number in the UK, a UK number in the US, and so on.

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Fancy a phone number in America? You can have one, for 30 euros, if you are a user of the free Internet phone system, Skype. It went live with its beta-test version of the "Skype-in" service today, including free voice-mail.

The new version - version 1.2 - is due out inside six weeks, according to Niklas Zennstrom, who revealed some of his plans at a recent interview at Paddington Station, London.

"One of the most important parts of the new version will be a much improved connection to ordinary phone services," Zennstrom promised.

Normally, Skype users talk from computer to computer, often wearing headsets. The call is free, over broadband links. Recently, Skype added a pioneering service which allowed users to make free broadband calls over Wi-Fi hotspots in certain British sites, including many main railway stations and some trains, where hotspots are operated by Broadreach Networks - and this includes calls to real phone numbers.

Until now, however, calls could only be made outgoing, using SkypeOut service. Today's beta-test code launch reverses this: you can now have a call coming in from an ordinary phone subscriber.

And you can make it easy for them; you can buy a phone number from Skype in a country where you don't live. This means that if your important contacts are in America and you live in the UK or Europe, you buy a 12-month subscription to a US phone number and area code, and your US contacts can call for much less.

And if they work for corporations which routinely block overseas calls for security or other reasons, they can call you as if you were a genuine local number.


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