3G-only operator 3UK announced the global launch of the ‘Skypephone’ today. The handset, which features a dedicated Skype button, was developed by the VoIP player and network operator in partnership with Qualcomm, using the San Diego firm’s Brew platform.

The announcement builds on 3UK’s reputation as an innovator and disruptive force. The Hutchison Whampoa-owned carrier made the headlines this time last year when it announced the X-Series offering – a service that, among other things, included an ‘all you can eat’ data plan and came with Skype preinstalled on the subscribers’ terminals.

“In the short term, 3 may be able to use the Skype phone effectively to boost its subscriber numbers. In the long term, though, if 3 is successful with the Skype phone, the X-Series and similar projects, it might end up creating its own strategic problems,” pointed out John Delany principal analyst at Ovum. “Imagine the scenario: on your mobile phone you use Skype for phone calls, Hotmail for messaging, Google for search and directions, YouTube for TV and music. What do you need your mobile operator for? The answer could turn out to be: subsidising phones, carrying data packets, and dealing with problems complaints. Does that add up to an attractive business?”

Understandably, Kevin Russell, CEO of 3 UK, is more upbeat: “3 wants to make the mobile internet available to everyone. To do this, we believe that services need to be simple to access and affordable. Communication is the prime function of the mobile today. Skype is the leader in internet communications. To enable Skype to go mobile in this way brings free internet calls together with an affordable 3G handset. Mobile has the potential to massively increase access to internet calling.”

Michael van Swaaij, acting CEO at Skype, added: “Skype began by offering free PC to PC calling and now we’re doing the same with mobile calls with 3. It takes an innovative operator like 3 to challenge traditional thinking and offer the kind of product other operators are still shying away from.”