Skype users may soon be sending text messages

Skype users can now send and receive text messages from mobile phones.

Users of the Internet phone service offered by Skype International may soon be able to send text messages to mobile phones thanks to a service that went into beta testing on Friday.

London-based Connectotel has 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 P-to-P (peer-to-peer) network, according to Connectotel's business development and technical director, Spencer Gun.

Skype users could already receive SMS messages using the "SMS to Skype" service launched three weeks ago. Connectotel began a beta test of its "Skype to SMS" service with selected users on Friday, Gun said Friday. The beta test is currently limited to sending messages to the U.K. and it was unclear Friday when the service might be ready for commercial use.

To use the Skype to SMS service, Skype users must first add "smsgateway" to their list of contacts, and then initiate a chat session with that contact. Once they've initiated the session, they can add the U.K. phone number for the person they want to send the message to -- in its full international format -- followed by their message.

With the current SMS to Skype service, the mobile phone user pays to send the message. An international SMS is slightly more expensive than a national SMS, according to Gun.

The Skype to SMS service is free during the beta test period. But there is a cost to providing the service, and Connectotel hopes Skype will participate, according to Gun.

"For the beta test, we have purchased SMS messages in bulk to get a good price of less than 3 pence (US$0.6) per message, so we're currently paying for the service," he said. "What we would like to do is have the billing managed through the existing SkypeOut prepaid service. We're in talks with Skype about this possibility."

With SkypeOut, users must pay into an account, say Euro 10 (US$13), against which they charge their calls. The SkypeOut global rate is 1.7 euro cents per minute.

Skype could not be immediately reached for comment.

Skype uses P-to-P technology to connect users to other users to talk and chat with friends. Skype was developed by the founders of Kazaa P-to-P technology, widely used to share music files. Sharman Networks is the company behind the Kazaa file sharing software

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