Using Skype on your smartphone: data usage & restrictions on 3G usage

February 12th, 2012

The Skype application for iPhone and Android allows you to make free phone calls from your mobile over 3G and wi-fi.

Skype is one of the world’s most popular internet-based telephone services. Operated by Microsoft, the service has around 600 million registered users most of whom use a laptop to connect to the service and to make phone calls. However it’s also possible to use Skype on your iPhone, Android or Symbian smartphone with the service offering free Skype-to-Skype phone calls.

In the UK, only Three and O2 allow Skype to be used on their network. In this article, we’ll look at which phones and networks support Skype and the policies that each mobile network has regarding Skype. We’ll also look at Skype data usage and the cost of Skype calls from your mobile phone.

How do I get Skype on my smartphone?

Skype is available on the following platforms:

Skype is not yet available for the Windows Phone platform but is expected to be available soon.

Can I make video calls from Skype’s mobile application?

Yes, but only on some platforms. Full video calling support can be found in the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPad 2 and Android devices running Android 2.3 or later. On other devices video calling support is limited: for example the iPhone 3G S only allows you to send video from the backward facing camera. This makes it difficult to use video calling in a practical way.

Platform Receive video Send video (front camera) Send video (back camera)
iPhone 4 & iPhone 4S
iPhone 3G S
iPad 2
iPad (Original)
Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) or later
Android 2.2 (Froyo)
Android 2.1 or earlier
Symbian

How much of my download allowance does Skype use?

When using Skype over a 3G mobile connection, it’s important to be aware that Skype is consuming data. That means you should only use Skype over 3G if you have a tariff with inclusive internet: otherwise it could be costly. You’ll also need a healthy download allowance – we recommend at least 500MB per month for Skype.  You should also avoid using Skype on 3G whilst abroad: the high costs of data roaming mean that it’ll almost definitely cost more than making a regular phone call when abroad. When making Skype calls over a wi-fi connection, it will not count towards your monthly download limit. See our complete guide to download allowances for more information.

Our testing has shown that Skype approximately consumes:

Call Type Data Consumption Bitrate
Voice call 0.55MB per minute (30MB per hour) 70kbit/s
Video call 4MB per minute (240MB per hour) 500kbit/s

Note that Skype calls use a variable bitrate. This means if you’ve got a faster connection or a more powerful phone, Skype will automatically increase the bitrate and hence the call quality. On a slower connection or a older handset, the bitrate will be reduced. The data consumption figures we’ve listed here are 30MB per hour for voice calls and 240MB per hour for video calls. This is based off our own testing with the Galaxy Nexus running Skype for Android. Data consumption could be higher or lower for you so the figures stated should only be taken as an approximate figure.

It is important to be aware that Skype will also consume small amounts of data when you are signed in – even if the programme is running in the background and you are not actively making a phone call.

Does my network terms of use allow me to use Skype over 3G?

Of the UK’s big 5 networks, only Three and O2 allow Skype to be used on their network. Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone prohibit the use of Skype over 3G.

Three permits the use of Skype on their network – in fact they actively promote their own Skype on Three offering. Skype usage will be deducted from your internet allowance as normal. Customers of The One Plan have no download limits so there is essentially no limit to how much you can use Skype.

O2 permits the use of Skype on their network. This will count towards your O2 download allowance (either 100MB, 500MB or 1GB depending on your plan). O2’s Pay As You Go subsidary, giffgaff, also allows Skype usage.

Orange do not allow Skype to be used on their network. The Orange terms of conditions states:

Mobile internet browsing (whether as part of an inclusive allowance or not) is not to be used for other activities (such as non-Orange internet based streaming services, voice or video over the internet, instant messaging, peer to peer file sharing).

T-Mobile blocks access to voice over IP services such as Skype according to a post in their customer forum. According to the T-Mobile terms of use, the Basic and Standard data plans do not permit Skype usage:

Just remember, you can’t use any internet on your phone option for peer to peer file sharing and if you choose Basic or Standard you can’t make internet calls (‘VoIP’) or use your phone as a modem (‘tethering’).

Vodafone do not permit Skype usage on standard tariffs. According to their FAQ page under the heading “Will I be able to use Skype™ or peer-to-peer services?”:

Yes. However, to use Skype™ calls or peer-to-peer services you will need Mobile broadband via your phone… You can not use Skype™ or peer-to-peer services on any other pay monthly or pay as you browse packs.

All networks permit Skype usage over a wi-fi connection. When connected to a wi-fi network, Skype data does not pass through your mobile operator so they do not have the means to restrict it.

Does Skype work on a 2G connection?

2G connections are only able to provide very limited speeds: up to 60kbit/s download and up to 40kbit/s upload. Whilst it may be technically possible to make a Skype call over a 2G connection, it is likely to be very unreliable. We recommend using Skype over 3G connections whenever possible.

Can I call landlines or abroad using the Skype mobile application?

Yes. The SkypeOut service allows you to call landlines and mobile phones both at home and abroad. Whilst Skype-to-Skype calls are free, you’ll need to pay per minute for calls to phone numbers. It costs 1.6p/minute to call UK landlines and 17.1p/minute to call UK mobiles. There is also a connection fee of 4.9p/minute.

The approximate cost of a 20 minute call is as follows:

Call destination Cost of 20 minute call Effective cost per minute
UK landline 37p 1.9p/minute
UK mobile £3.47 17.4p/minute

Note that these prices only include the prices charged by Skype: there may be additional charges for 3G data depending on your data plan.

The Skype website lists the calling rates for different countries. There are often fairly significant savings to be had by using Skype for international calls.

Where do I get Skype for my smartphone?

You can get Skype for Mobile from the Skype website. Remember you’ll need to be on Three or O2 to use Skype over a 3G connection.

    

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About Ken

Ken Lo

I'm a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005 with the aim of demystifying mobile technology for the rest of us.

Before writing about mobile technology, my background was in space & atmospheric physics. I have also worked in software development. Nowadays, I help companies to explain mobile technology to their customers. Please check out my portfolio or get in touch for more information. I'm also on Google+.

Your Comments

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 11 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. khan said:

    Is data consuming of incoming and outgoing call same?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Khan,
      Yep – incoming and outgoing calls will both use the same amount of data.
      Ken

  2. Heather said:

    I have a Skype number which I use for business and I work in Portugal and the UK but as the signal in Portugal has become unusable with real problems for people hearing me I have decided to use Vodafone one net which will at least give me a reliable phone signal; I cannot however see how to contact Skype to get a PAC code. I have looked on forums but nobody seems to have replied to any query about transferring are you aware of any way that I can do this?

    Ever hopeful Heather…..

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Heather,
      I assume you’re using a geographical number with the SkypeIn service (e.g. a number beginning in 01 or 02)? Unfortunately, there’s no way to transfer your number to another provider: the PAC Code system only applies to mobile numbers. The only solutions I’m able to think of would be setting up call forwarding or using a pre-recorded message informing people of your new number.
      Ken

  3. nick hopman said:

    Can I assume that the operators who allow this have an IMS back end to terminate the VoIP SIP call?

    Also, I know SKYPE-SKYPE calls are free but SKYPE-OUT? or calling a land line or a non SKYPE phone costs a tariff that presumably SKYPE has to pay to the terminating service – like a roaming charge, right?

    Thanks,

    Nick

  4. Andrea said:

    Hi Ken,
    do you know if O2 still allows Skype over 3G with every type of plan?

    Thank you!

    Andrea

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Andrea,

      As far as I'm aware, O2 still allows Skype on their Pay Monthly plans.

      Ken

      1. Andrea replied:

        Thank you very much!

        Andrea

  5. Charlie said:

    Is this information still valid? I spoke to Vodafone this week and the call centre guy informed me that Vodafone was the only network which allowed Skype to be used over the network (ie not using wifi). They do not offer unlimited data, but if this is true then their package would seem preferable for skype users who wish to use skype "on the go"….

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Charlie,

      The current policy (AFAIK) is that customers on the Vodafone Red plan and any other plans of £40/month or more can use Skype over 3G. There are many other networks that permit the use of Skype over 3G.

      Ken

  6. Hyder Ali said:

    Very good explanation now I will be careful to use Skype on my I phone 4s with 3G .due to this information now I can save my data so I have to say thanks

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