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

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

My passion is helping people to get the most out of their mobile phone. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005.

Aside from writing about mobile technology, my interests are in software development, digital marketing and physics. Outside of the blog, I work with numerous technology companies helping them to explain their product and helping them to market it to consumers. Please get in touch for more information.

Your Comments

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 26 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. Sam said:

    How many people can I have in a Skype audio call at once on the app

    1. Ken replied:

      Hi Sam,
      You can have up to 25 people in a Skype conference call.
      Hope this helps!

  2. Praise said:

    Whenever I want to make Skype calls, I’m always told to buy Skype credits which requires the use of MasterCard, visa and the rest even when I have enough data. Please could this be as a result of my settings or what? Please I would appreciate your comments. Thanks!

    1. Ken replied:

      Hi Praise,
      Thanks for your comment. With Skype, only Skype-to-Skype calls are totally free – you’ll need to pay a bit extra when calling landlines and mobiles. The charge will be taken away from your Skype credit (this is totally different to the data plan you buy from your mobile network).
      Hope this helps,

  3. Rick said:

    My mobile phone provider doesn’t permit use of Skype over their 3G data services. However, my Android smartphone automatically connects to my Virgin Media broadband via WiFi when I’m in range. Virgin Media do permit use of Skype over their broadband. So, theoretically, I could use Skype on my smartphone over the WiFi broadband connection, thereby avoiding 3G usage. Any idea how I’d do this?


    1. Ken replied:

      Hi Rick,
      Thanks for your comment. The Skype application will automatically use whatever network connection you have on your smartphone. For this reason, if your phone is connected to the home broadband using wi-fi, the Skype application will use that automatically. Skype will only attempt to use the 3G connection when you aren’t connected to a wi-fi network.
      Hope this helps!

      1. Rick replied:

        Thank you, that’s great news.

        Next question is which version of Skype to download and install from the Google Play Store? There’s Skype for IM & Video Calls or something called Skype WIFI. Not sure what’s the difference.


        1. Ken replied:

          Hi Rick,
          You’ll need to download the ‘Skype – free IM & video calls’ app. Skype WiFi is for something totally different (essentially, they’re public wi-fi hotspots paid for from your Skype credit).

          1. Rick replied:

            Hi Ken,
            Thank you, again, for your very fast and clear answers. I’ve now installed Skype on my smartphone and it’s connected to my broadband over wifi.

            One last question: is there any way (a setting) to tell the Android version of Skype that it can only make calls when it has a wifi connection (in other words, it’s prohibited from using voip on 3G) ?

            I’ll let you know how I get on…


          2. Ken replied:

            Hi Rick,
            Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s an easy way to stop Skype using 3G when wi-fi isn’t available. My only comment is you probably don’t need to worry too much about this. The networks will simply block VoIP usage at their side (it’s very, very unlikely you’ll see any consequences if you were to accidentally make a VoIP call on 3G!)

          3. Rick replied:

            Ken, in reply to your message of 14th.
            Thanks again. I couldn’t find much in the way of ‘settings’ either.
            Time for a test. 🙂
            Your assistance has been much appreciated.

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