3's widely-trailed collaboration with Skype will be a new handset that will launch in the run-up to Christmas, sources say.
The operator already offers access to free Skype calling through an application for its X-Series phones. However, the new product will see much tighter integration with the eBay-owned VoIP software. The current implementation fudges slightly by using the voice channel to connect to the phone mast before the network converts the call to a true VoIP.
The X-Series launched at the tail end of 2006. It was the first mobile broadband package to offer fixed line-style pricing. It has failed to jumpstart mass market mobile internet in the way it was hoped to.
3 still hasn't officially confirmed the partnership, which has been the worst-kept secret in the mobile industry.
A spokesman said: "The move marks a radical step forward in operator thinking and will mobilise internet calls for a mass market. It will also close the gap between internet communications and mobile calling and is something you won't see from any other operator." ®