If you've ever travelled or backpacked around the world, you'll know that WiFi has really changed the way we get online. In Australia, free WiFi is something of a luxury. But in restaurants, coffee shops, malls and hotels across Europe, Asia and the US - free WiFi is something akin to a god-given right among laptop owners there.
And when the WiFi isn't free - you can always bank of using a local internet cafe, where average rates of $AU1 to $3/hour are common.
So, you can imagine our excitement when we read that Skype were going to shake up the WiFi market with per minute pricing called Skype Access. The service uses more than 100,000 WiFi providers worldwide, which is a great idea, thought we can't help thinking it sounds too expensive.
Skype Access - the cost
One minute of Skype Access WiFi time will cost you approximately AU$0.29. That might be good for checking your email for 2 minutes, but it gets costly after that.
To put that in perspective: 15 minutes will cost you $4.35, or more than most internet cafes charge by the hour. And one hour of Skype Access WiFi (a typical surfing session for some) will cost a whopping $17.40.
To add insult to injury, Skype's prices are 16% more expensive than what Telstra Bigpond charge for access to their own WiFi hotspots. 15 minutes at a BigPond WiFi Hotspot will cost $5 and 20 cents per minute thereafter. After 1 hour, you would have spent $14 - slightly less than Skype Access, though by no means competitively priced.
Speeds and coverage
It's not known what kind of speeds Skype Access customers can expect, nor the exact geographical spread of hotspots across the world (a map would be handy). It's no coincidence that Australia's biggest WiFi provider (Telstra) is notably absent from the partner list. That makes the offer not particularly useful or enticing for domestic use.
There's also no talk of pay by the hour or 'unlimited' pay by the month deals, which exist with most of Skype's other products.
Free WiFi weekend
There is some good news though. This weekend, Skype Access will offer free WiFi access around the world for all enabled hotspots. The free WiFi times are:
- 10:00:00 AEST on Saturday 20 March, 2010 till 09:59:00 AEST on Monday 22 March, 2010
- 0:00:00 GMT on Saturday 20 March to 23.59 GMT on Sunday 21 March, 2010
Skype already offer extremely cheap calls to mobile and landlines for a few cents a minute. So it's hard to understand the reasoning behind Skype's latest scheme. Skype need another good look at their new WiFi pricing if they're going to grab a share of the lucrative traveller's market.