| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Nearly 5 million consumers have downloaded a Skype Web telephony application that launched Sunday, allowing users of Apple Inc's iPhone to use privately held Skype's service over the cellular network for the first time, Skype said on Wednesday.
Before the launch of the application for use on high-speed third generation (3G) networks on May 30, consumers could only use Skype on their iPhone when they had access to Wi-Fi, a short-range wireless technology found in venues like coffee shops, homes and offices.
"We've had millions of downloads to date," Russ Shaw, Skype's general manager for mobile, told Reuters, referring to global iPhone users. "That's really positive."
A Skype spokeswoman said the number of downloads of the application was nearly five million by Wednesday morning Eastern Time.
Shaw said the app saw a good mix of demand across Skype's three main operating regions: Europe, North America and the Asia Pacific region.
However, Skype faced a lot of complaints from Web commentators after it also said on Sunday that it would start charging for 3G calls between Skype users next year.
This was seen as a big turnaround since the main reason Skype became popular was because Skype-to-Skype calls have always been free whether subscribers use it on their computer or their cellphone.
Shaw said the company needs to start charging for the service so that it can fund the investments needed to ensure that the quality of 3G Skype calls stays high.
He declined to give specific details about pricing plans except to say that the service would still be competitive with rival services including traditional cellphone calls.
"We're not going to want to price ourselves out of the market," he said. "I can't ignore the fact that consumers (currently) use us for free."
Apple is expected to announce a new iPhone on June 7. Shaw said Skype would hope to support the next iPhone too but noted that he had no details about Apple's announcement. AT&T Inc is currently the exclusive U.S. iPhone provider.
(Reporting by Sinead Carew; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)