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Don't worry about saving minutes with Skype, think data use

Skype recently announced that its software for iPhones and iPod touches was iOS 4 compatible, meaning that it can now run in the background and won't quit if you switch to another app. On top of that, the company said that it was lifting its fees for calls made over 3G connections—now, users can make more frequent and longer Skype calls from anywhere there's a cell connection, but without using cell minutes. This would not only apply to iPhone users, it would benefit Android users too. Hooray, right?

Maybe not. When Skype first made its debut in the mobile world, the world was much more concerned with conserving cell minutes than it is today. Instead, many of us are much more aware of our mobile data usage thanks to data caps and overage charges from the major cell carriers. Fewer people are trying to save five minutes here and ten minutes there in a world with rollover minutes and unlimited talk plans, but heavy data users are trying to make sure they're not sending or receiving more bytes than necessary.

Because of this shift, it may not be wise to make all those calls over Skype on 3G after all. We decided to try and find out how much data a typical Skype call would use, so we made a five-minute call from Skype on an iPhone over 3G to another Skype user. During that time, we received 1.5MB of data and sent 1.8MB for a total of 3.3MB of data transmitted.

What does this translate to? If you have a 200MB data limit (as you might if you're on the $15 data plan from AT&T), you can make five hours worth of Skype calls—assuming you're not transmitting any other data for other purposes. If you're on a 2GB monthly limit, you can make just under 52 hours' worth of Skype calls. If you want to actually do other things on your phone, though, you'll have to adjust your usage. (If you typically use 550MB of data in a month doing other things, for example, you can make just under 37 hours' worth of Skype calls on a 2GB monthly limit.)

Truth be told, it's unlikely that you'll find yourself Skyping merrily past your monthly data caps unless you spend hours upon hours on the service every month, and you make all of your calls over the 3G network instead of WiFi. Still, many of our readers argued recently that they use close to 2GB of data every month already by simply streaming music all the time, so using Skype too often may put those users dangerously close to the edge.

By no means avoid using Skype. If you're still a minute-counter, making Skype calls over WiFi will certainly help conserve your cell minutes and won't suck your data limits either. And now that you can run Skype in the background on the iPhone, it's easier than ever to have long chats with Grandma back in the old country.

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3.25 Copyright (C) 2007 Alain Georgette / Copyright (C) 2006 Frantisek Hliva. All rights reserved."

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