Educate me about Skype-compatible cellphones

I do not have a cell phone. Twice in my life, an employer has issued me one or required me to buy one, and both times they gathered dust. (Yeah, I’m one of those irritating anti-cellphone Dopers).

But I may be inclined to change my ways. I enjoy Skype on my computer. And it has come to my attention that it is possible to own a cell phone that uses your Skype number as its inbound number. So I could use it only on those rare occasions when I am not where my computer is, and not have to give out two different phone numbers as my contact number or deal with folks calling me on the less-convenient number, etc.

But how does this work? I assume at a minimum that I have to acquire the hardware, but I suspect that’s not all there is to it. (After all, having a Skype account doesn’t get your COMPUTER online either). From whom would I get reception-service? Do several different cellphone vendors like oh I dunno Verizon T-Mobile Sprint AT&T etc all give you the option of a Skype account instead of them issuing you a new phone #? Or if not, how is it done? And what type of contracts / packages are available?

Hardware-wise, all I need are buttons for 123456789#0* and a button to take the receiver off the hook / hang up. Don’t need an LCD. Don’t need an address book. Sure as hell don’t need video games, email, texting, voicemail retrieval, web-surfing capability, camera, etc. I don’t mind if it has some or most of that as long as it’s easy to use as “just a freaking phone”, like a pay phone except tiny and in your pocket and you don’t have to stick quarters into it.

Contract / package-wise, I’d ideally like to put, let’s say, $50 on it and I don’t pay a monthly charge, I just have to replenish the $50 a couple years later when I use it up.

Clue me in: how’s it done and what options exist? Is this for me?

I have skype on my iphone and its limited by agreement with my carrier (rogers in canada) to using WIFI. If I jailbreak the phone, giving me root access instead of just user access, I can download a program that fools the skype software into thinking its accessing wifi with the 3g radio.

At this point there is a number of different smartphones or PDA’s that will allow you to use cellular data to enable the call, instead of just wifi alone. This will be included in your data contract with your provider at a set tier of usage and can be expensive compared to the usual smorgazborg of anytime and long distance rates.

The majority of North American carriers have not made the adjustment to being strictly a pipe service and still see themselves as a content provider. The skype service, if it can be implemented would deprive the carriers of revenue, depending on how far and fast the data rates are expected to fall.

I say expected because Rogers offered an email data plan five years ago that was twenty five dollars a month adjunct, for a measlely meg of data. Contrasting to today and I am paying 80 dollars for a combined data and voice contract of six gigs. Since they had no idea what the 3g iphone was going to be pulling in and a way to steal other carriers subscribers, this plan is not a normal one as an option for a new subscriber except at certain times of the year depending on when apple brings out a new version.

However since the skype service is basically a phone call, even 500 megs would more or less be satisfactory.

Your other questions would be better ansewered on skypes own website for the everything number, but you would still retain a carrier number regardless.


I followed at least two of those sentences fairly well.

It sounds like you are saying “no, at least not yet” ?

Sorry bout that, but thats correct.

No, the at least not yet part could be as much as five years away


If your only (or main) issue is with having to give out two phone numbers, would google voice help? You get one number and you can freely choose any other number that it forwards to. It’s free (at least for now) and you can change the forwarding at any time, as often as you like (and it has some other features as well that might appeal to someone who likes to control how they get contacted).

I don’t want to “get one number”. I already have one number. I want to give THAT number out, which I already do, and have it ring my cellphone if I’m out and about, otherwise I answer it via Skype.

I don’t understand the Skype part, but use call-forwarding on your home phone to your cell phone for the first part. If you don’t answer your home phone within a certain number of rings, it will ring your cell phone. But you probably knew that.

We only use Skype for our international calls - and we use only our cell phones. They have a GREAT plan - for just $9.95 month for both our cell phones (or $72 for a year contract) you can call up to 10,000 minutes international per month! We make lots of calls to Germany and some to to New Zealand and it has paid for itself many time over. *

Once you are set up, you call the Skype number on your cell - then dial in the international area code and the phone number and voila - that’s it! The connections have always been very good and clear and for that price, my SO can chat to Germany for hours on end and I don’t twitch in the corner, worrying about the phone bill. I still remember the old days when a call to Germany cost us about $10 for just a minute or two!
*They cover many international countries but not all - Europe and quite a few Asian countries, etc. are included though. You can go online to see which ones. However, this does not include calling a mobile phone in Germany (that costs extra) or some other countries (Turkey, for instance - we found out that the hard way when we called a German friend who was there on vacation.)

I don’t have a cell.

I would have to GET a cell.

I don’t want, or need, a new / additional phone number. I want the cell phone to HAVE my Skype number AS its phone number.

I want anyone receiving a call FROM the cellphone to see my Skype # on caller ID. I don’t want there to exist a separate phone number via which anyone could ever call the cell phone and NOT be dialing Skype.

Sorry that doesn’t help.

I don’t want my land line to forward calls to my cell phone. (what cell phone?)

I want to extend Skype, which I already have, so that I can carry it around with me in my pocket and not just have use of it when I am at my computer.

I thought I had read that there existed cell phones which were SKYPE PHONES. That’s what I want.

As has already been mentioned, I think you could do it with a jailbroken iPhone. This is not currently illegal, though Apple and AT&T are fighting for it to be. (It reduces their profit margin. AT&T because more Skype calls means less cellular calls. Apple because it makes it easier to unlock the phone, which hurts their exclusive deals.)

If you have Wi-Fi (or don’t mind getting it), you could just use an iPod Touch and not even have to jailbreak anything. But it would only work as far as the Wi-Fi signal went.

I could also see a much more complex setup where you use a voice modem. With the right drivers, they work like a sound card. You’d map Skype to them. You’d then run some sort of dialing program to call your cell phone anytime someone calls your Skype. When you pick up, it would be as if you were talking directly to the computer’s sound card.

Dialing out would require much more complex scripting.

My Nokia N900 seems to have decent Skype support. I only tested it with Skype-to-Skype calling over WiFi, but it worked well and integrated it into the regular call UI. Couple that with a data-only cell plan (generally available for netbook or laptop use), and it would solve your problem.

There are a few catches. The N900’s a smartphone, so you’ll be paying a premium for a bunch of features that you presumably don’t want. I don’t think you’ll be able to find just the Skype-enabled equivalent of a standard cheap cellphone right now. The phone’s $650 retail, although you should be able to find it cheaper.

Another problem is that it’s GSM-based, so you’d have to go with T-mobile or AT&T. Also, because of the frequencies that the phone supports, it’ll only do 2.5G speeds on AT&T instead of 3G. That may or may not be an issue, but I don’t have a data plan, so I can’t tell you how well it works for Skype at 2.5G speeds.

Finally, you’ll have the monthly charge for the data plan. I don’t think there’s any way around it – you’ve got to pay the cell provider for relaying data between your phone and Skype’s servers, and they aren’t getting a cut of your Skype payments. I seem to recall either AT&T or T-mobile had a data plan for only $30/month or so. That’s still $30/month more than you wanted to pay, but that’s relatively cheap as far as any sort of cell service goes.

I don’t know what 41% of those words mean.

I know what WiFi is as it pertains to my PowerBook. Do cell phones use WiFi? Is there something else they also use? (Why else specify it?) What’s a “data-only cell plan”? What’s a “smartphone”? What’s “GSM”?

Hmm… you’re saying $650 for the phone + $30/month for connectivity? Yeah that’s a bit on the high side, considering I wouldn’t be using it very often.

Yup, that’s the same WiFi. Some cellphones can use it to transmit data, but it only works when you’ve got WiFi access, obviously.

The “something else” they also use is the cellular network. That gives you access anywhere you’ve got cellular coverage rather than leaving you at the mercy of available WiFi.

A data-only cell plan would be one that just covers internet data via the cellular network (i.e. what lets someone surf the web via their phone), as opposed to voice and text-messaging. They’re designed for netbooks and laptops will cellular modems. In contrast, a normal cellphone plan for making calls would just cover voice. A cellphone plan for a smartphone would generally cover voice, data, and sometimes texting.

Smartphone is a slightly fuzzy term, but it generally refers to phones that can run various applications beyond what the manufacturer and your cell provider stuck on the phone to begin with. In short, they’re like part computer and part phone. The best known example is the iPhone, but there’s also the various Android phones (including Droid), Blackberries, Palm phones, and more.

GSM is one of the two standards in the U.S. for cellphone communication. AT&T and T-mobile both use GSM while the others (Sprint, Verizon, et al) use CDMA. Phones are either GSM or CDMA, so you kind of have to choose a phone and a provider at the same time.

Amazon’s got it for $571 right now, but that’s still pretty pricey if you’re using it for just one thing.

It does look like Skype’s got a client out for a bunch of other phones, including Android and Java-based phones. Using that should allow you to cut the phone cost even further. I’m not too familiar with the various other smartphones out there, but I think you could get the phone cost way down. Checking ebay, a used HTC G1 (older Android-based smartphone) has new ones for $245 and used ones for $140. No clue how well Skype’s client works on those, so I’d suggest doing research before buying one. Also, you might need to jailbreak it if you want to use it on AT&T instead of T-mobile.

Also, it looks like AT&T’s standalone data plan would be at least $35/month. I missed a footnote that indicated that the price reflected a $5/month discount based on the assumption that you also have voice service. And that’s their minimum data plan, which seems to be geared more towards email and web browsing. I’m not sure how well it would work with Skype.

So all-in-all, it’s theoretically doable, but there do seem to be a number of financial hurdles which seem like they’d be dealbreakers.

Thanks for the overview!

Meanwhile I found what I must have come across to give me the impression that what I was looking for is available. It is, apparently… just not here in the US :frowning:

It’s a not-very-informative site so I’d still have a dozen questions or more even if it WERE available here (plan cost?? there is some kind of monthly plan cost, yes?? It does say “pay as you go” though so maybe not “per the month” but only “per the minute of use”? That would be SO cool!); but the upshot is a dedicated device that is intrinsically designed to make Skype based phone calls, and you buy the device and the calls themselves are free (except to non-skype numbers for which you pay, just as you do when making such calls from your computer). Any Aussie or UK dopers able to chime in about these things?

I was going to say, when I lived in the UK, I’m sure 3 offered something very much like what you are looking for. Then I got to your last post!

Pay-as-You-Go is the alternative to a monthly contract in the UK and is very common. You buy per-minute (or per-text) calling credit in advance, essentially, and it lasts until you run out of it (unlike here in France, where it expires, used or not. Don’t get me started on French mobile phones.) For the Skype phone, I think the deal was that you bought the phone (they seem to be selling the internet-ready handsets for £40) and some calling credit - when you weren’t making Skype calls, it used your phone credit, and when you were, it was free. has more details than I remember off the top of my head, though you’ve probably seen that… It looked useful - had I used Skype more often when I was there, I would definitely have got one. I nearly did anyway, when I was looking for a phone (I went with an N95 instead - more useful for what I needed at the time).

It might be possible to buy the skype phone from 3, and look into whether there’s a package from your mobile network that provides unlimited 3G internet access (do American mobiles use 3G to access the internet?) - if the skype phone uses internet access from 3, it might be able to do the same from your American network. No idea who you’d talk to to find out, though - do you have an independent phone sales place like (well, independent, not tied to a specific network, anyway…)? They are where I’d start, I think, if I were looking for something similar in the UK.

I don’t know what most of that means, either.

3G? (Isn’t that an iPhone brand name or something?)
Independent phone sales?

Uh…how would any of this work? Remember: I am not cellphone-savvy. Use short sentences and lots of illustrations.

I am no expert by any means, AHunter, but let me take a stab at it – my SO was trying to explain this to me earlier and I will try to translate the technospeak: For example, my SO has the “G1” Google Android phone which you can only get through T-Mobile. (That is, this phone is one of those “smartphones” with a little keyboard and touch screen that you can get online with etc., and it runs the “Android” operating system Google designed for phones. There are other similar phones out that run Android such as the Motorola “Droid” which operates through Verizon). More Android-based phone models are supposed to be coming out throughout 2010…

Anyway back to my SO’s phone. Through his provider, T-Mobile, he has a “data plan” which costs him a certain amount of money per month for “unlimited data,” which means, he can always access the internet on his phone through the cell towers (meaning, anywhere he has cell reception, as opposed to Wi-Fi, which is a wireless internet connection, such as one you would have at home or at Border’s or at Starbucks or a hotel where ever a “Wi-Fi” internet connection is offered.)

So since his phone is technically always online through this cellular data plan, he can set up a Skype utility/application* on his phone so that it alerts him (“rings”) whenever he gets a call to his Skype number.

*Not sure exactly what this app is that he uses, but I can find out next time I talk to him.

Just to add, his phone also has a regular cellular phone number that came with the T-Mobile plan (“voice plan”), but you wouldn’t necessarily ever have to use that to make calls or give it out to anyone. You could theoretically use the phone device only for its data connection.

Final note, I may very well have no idea what I am talking about, but this is how it was explained to me by my techie boyfriend – others might confirm that what I say is accurate.

Let me try another analogy:

Right now you use your computer, which is hooked up to your internet connection at home, to use Skype.

i.e. internet connection (wired or wireless [“WiFi”]) >> your computer >> Skype >> phone calls

Replace your computer with a “smart phone” which is really just a tiny little computer, and replace your home internet connection with a “data plan” you buy through a provider, which operates through cell towers, to use Skype (via a small app on your phone).

i.e. cellular data connection >> smartphone (mini-computer) >> Skype app >> phone calls