Skype goes mainstream on Wal-Mart shelves

Skype makes it way onto the shelves of 1,800 stores

American shoppers will be able to buy Skype hardware and pre-paid voice-over-IP calling cards in about half of Wal-Mart's stores nationwide starting this week.

While some Skype gear has been available for more than a year in some Wal-Mart stores, the expansion to 1,800 stores for Skype hardware sales and the addition of US$20 Skype pre-paid cards shows the rapid growth of consumer VoIP adoption.

Skype competitor Vonage also sells products in Wal-Mart stores, but Skype will be first with the pre-paid cards, a Skype spokesman said.

Nearly 10% of all landline phone lines in U.S. households in 2006 were VoIP-based, a percentage that should reach nearly 35% by 2010, according to the Telecommunications Industry Association, a trade group.

"We have taken a sharp focus to launch the products and brands that consumers are moving toward at the most affordable prices," said Kevin O'Connor, general merchandise manager for Wal-Mart electronics in a statement. "The Skype hardware and pre-paid cards are a great fit with Wal-Mart."

Skype, an eBay company, has about 196 million registered users globally. The new $20 cards can be redeemed for international calls at rates as low as 2.1 cents per minute.

Also, Wal-Mart is selling a pre-paid card for a three-month subscription to the Skype Unlimited Calling Plan for US$8.85, which provides three months of unlimited Skype calling to any landline or cell phone number in the U.S. and Canada. Such outbound calls are provided over SkypeOut, but a user will also need to purchase SkypeIn service, for about US$12 for three months.

The hardware products being sold include headsets for less than US$15, Webcams and voice handsets, all manufactured by 50 different electronics manufacturers.

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