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Thursday, September 29, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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CTIA Entertainment: Qpass to manage Skype ringtones

Seattle Times technology reporter

SAN FRANCISCO — Skype, the red-hot Internet telecommunications company purchased by eBay this month for $2.6 billion, is partnering with Seattle-based Qpass to bring ringtones to the PC world.

Skype allows users to download software to make free calls from PCs to other computers worldwide. If a Skype user calls a land or mobile phone, there is a fee.

With the launch of Skype Personalise, Skype's 55 million users will also be able to purchase content like ringtones, sounds and pictures to modify the look and feel of their service. The idea is similar to personalizing mobile phones.

Qpass, which assists wireless carriers with the sale of their content, will manage the service, starting with gathering the content to running the store and billing.

The announcement corresponds with the CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment Show this week in San Francisco.

The add-ons include rings and tones for when someone is calling or when the caller is on hold. There will also be avatars or pictures that may reflect or look like the user.

Skype's Web site gives more details of the service offered by the company based in Luxembourg: "Imaging (sic) if someone told you what clothes to wear, or decided how you should dance disco. That would be sad, don't you think? That's why we have created this site: to help you build your own personal Skype, and to show the world who you are."

Wireless subscribers can personalize their phone by setting their favorite song to play when the phone rings or changing the picture in the background of their screen.

The business has become a significant revenue source for wireless carriers beyond voice services.

"The wireless carriers are really making money in it," said Claudia Pöpperl, Qpass marketing director in its London office.

"The fixed line operators missed out. They could have done personalization. They [Skype] are doing what the fixed-line operators are missing out on."

The income from ringtones is about $5 billion worldwide, Pöpperl said, and they make up 6 to 10 percent of a wireless carrier's revenue.

Personalise Skype follows the launch of other services, including voicemail. More than 2 million of Skype's customer base uses other premium services. Personalise Skype can be found at personal.skype.com.

Qpass will receive a cut of the content sold. It would not elaborate on any financial terms of the deal.

The timing of eBay's purchase of Skype is not expected to affect the deal. If anything, it could become a bigger opportunity for Qpass.

"We expect it to be a very big business. It's going to have huge take up — they have 55 million users," Pöpperl said.

In a statement James Bilefield, Skype's vice president of business development, said: "Qpass was highly responsive and able to rapidly integrate its software with our platform in a matter of weeks, allowing us to quickly bring these premium services to market."

Also at the CTIA show yesterday, Cingular Wireless and Nokia unveiled the Nokia 9300, a business-oriented device that runs on Cingular's high-speed EDGE network.

The device, to be available in November, comes loaded with Research in Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry Connect, making it feel like a BlackBerry, but on a Nokia handset. Cingular is the first carrier to launch the BlackBerry Connect program in the U.S.

The device will be $300 with contracts and rebates.

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or tduryee@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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