Polycom launches Skype speakerphone

Pressing a button on the new Polycom Communicator launches Skype on a USB-connected computer.Court Mast / AP / Polycom
/ Source: The Associated Press

In a sign of Skype's ambitions to extend its reach into the workplace, Polycom Inc., the largest U.S. maker of audioconferencing speakerphones, launched on Monday its first product designed for use with the popular Internet telephone service.

Unlike Polycom's iconic three-pronged phones found in conference rooms, its Communicator speakerphone is designed for individual use. It connects to a PC via a USB cable. Pressing a button on the $129.99 gadget launches Skype on the computer, where the call is set up.

Robert Hagerty, Polycom's chief executive, said Communicator's speaker and stereo microphone are intended to take advantage of Skype's audio quality, which — barring network interruptions — is superior to that of the traditional phone system.

Luxembourg-based Skype, which allows its users to call each other for free anywhere in the world, is a subsidiary of Internet auction site eBay Inc. Last week, Skype reported that it has signed up 100 million users, nearly twice the number it had when bought by eBay in September.

Henry Gomez, Skype's general manager for North America, said 30 percent of Skypers use the application mainly for work.

"These are mom-and-pops who are trying to control their calling costs," Gomez said. He said small businesses would make up most of business Skype users for the next several years, though divisions at larger companies are experimenting with the service.

The company has no marketing budget for reaching businesses, meaning it relies on word of mouth and partnerships with hardware manufacturers like Polycom to draw the attention of such users. It did recently launch a Web site for business customers, providing some basic tools to help them manage expenditures.

Skype's parent, eBay, is home to tens of thousands of small businesses, but it has yet not integrated Skype service into the U.S. site. Gomez said the company is talking to eBay buyers and sellers to figure out how to approach integration, which should happen in a matter of months.

Skype has already been integrated into eBay's Chinese site. Potential buyers can click on a link to initiate a call to the seller, for instance.

"In China, e-mail is not as popular, and voice is how you do things," Gomez said.