Belkin announced a new feature for their Wi-Fi-enabled Skype phone that works with Boingo Wireless's hotspot network today: The $180 list price phone will shortly work with an $8 per month Boingo Wireless VoIP subscription to place calls over the Skype network. As with other Skype phones, calls from the regular phone network via SkypeIn and back out via SkypeOut also work. Belkin's site says "free unlimited calls" but that refers just to the Skype network. SkypeIn and SkypeOut have applicable charges for use. (The phone was slated for release a few days ago, but Amazon shows it in pre-release status.) Update: Boingo put out its press release a few days later.
The built-in authentication to Boingo's network--listed at about 8,000 active locations in the U.S. on their hotspot directory--bypasses the problem of joining a Wi-Fi network via a device that lacks a Web browser or easy data entry. You can even register for Skype on the phone. Boingo, by the way, charges metered rates for many non-U.S. locations for general Wi-Fi access, but this VoIP subscription requires no additional fees beyond the monthly charge worldwide. Update: Boingo says that although they list 60,000 hotspots in their network, 35,000 are live and two enormous integration projects comprise nearly 20,000 more that will be live in the near future.
The phone is available in the U.S,. but the company told me the firmware upgrade for Boingo support is due out next Wednesday. The phone supports English, Chinese, and Korean, and will be released after its U.S. launch in Asia, Europe, and Australia.
Similar deals already exist in Europe. Truphone just announced a deal with The Cloud that supports certain Nokia phones with Wi-Fi. SMC recently released a Skype phone that works over Fon's self-forming international network.
I wrote about Devicescape's solution to this problem--maintaining login information on a separate Web site--earlier this week.