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Sony, Skype To Bring Internet Phone To PSP

Sony to unveil VoIP add-on at CES…

Tokyo -- Japan’s Sony Corp. plans to add an Internet phone function to its PlayStation Portable (PSP) game player in cooperation with eBay unit Skype to stir up demand, the Nikkei business daily said on Saturday.

According to a Sony Web page dedicated to news to be announced at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show the latest software upgrade to the PlayStation Portable platform will be Skype support.

The PSP has trailed Nintendo Co Ltd.’s DS handheld gear in sales since their launches three years ago as DS’s casual and innovative games proved a smashing success in gaming population expanding beyond young males to women and mature users.

“Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. and Skype Technologies SA will launch the service this month on the PSP’s latest model released in September, according to Nikkei.”

The new service enables free online calls between PSP owners and personal computer users, the Nikkei said.

“The VoIP service will allow PSP users to “call friends, talk trash to fellow gamers or catch up with acquaintances,” according to Sony’s website.”

By downloading Skype’s software, which is expected to become available as early as this month, PSP users can make free Web-based phone calls with other PSP users and the users of PCs equipped with Skype software, the Nikkei said.

The new service is designed for the latest PSP model launched in September, the newspaper said.

The company has previously outlined plans to make its “Go! Messenger,” service available to European users in a joint venture with BT, offering video calls, instant messaging, voice chat and voice messaging.

PSP owners can also sign up for a fee-based Skype service that gives them a dedicated phone number for making and receiving phone calls. That service is expected to cost 2,250 yen (US$20.60; euro13.99) for three months, the report said.

Users need to download Skype software to their PSPs, and get a microphone designed specifically for online chats and Internet phone calls, the report said.

It has been a long and rocky road for the PSP since its release more than three years ago, but the latest round of updates may be what the struggling handheld needs to succeed.

Sony’s computer entertainment unit has been looking to boost offerings other than video games for its PSP, which faces stiff competition from Nintendo Co.’s double-screened DS console.

Over the past year Sony released a slimmer version of the PSP with a more reasonable price tag of $169. This, along with the other slated PSP updates which include streaming music and the ability to connect to the PlayStation 3, has accomplished much for the PSP’s popularity since November price cuts. Now with Skype support this portable may have a chance to finally make it in 2008.

“Skype, a popular U.S.-based online telephony service, claims 246 million users worldwide. The company was acquired by eBay Inc. in 2005.”

Sony will be hoping that the announcement steals the thunder of arch rivals Microsoft and Apple.

Microsoft is widely rumored to be considering an HD-DVD add-on for its Xbox 360 console, while Apple is likely to unveil a much talked about sub-notebook at the upcoming MacWorld Expo.

Sony Computer Entertainment spokesman Satoshi Fukuoka declined to comment on the report, but said the game unit of the electronics and entertainment conglomerate is studying ways to add value to the PSP.