Internet-calling software provider Skype sees the mobile market as the next frontier for its service, but economic realities in the voice market–coupled with mobile operators who feel threatened by Skype–could put the kibosh on large-scale adoption for some time to come.
Skype, a peer-to-peer software application that allows people to make free phone calls to other Skype users over the Internet, has become an easy and inexpensive way for people all over the world to stay in touch.
In addition to allowing voice calling and instant messaging to other registered Skype users, the service offers premium services, such as Skypeout, which allows cheap calls from Skype to landlines or mobile phones worldwide. Another paid service, Skypeln, provides a personal and portable number that people can use to accept calls anywhere in the world.
Now the company is focusing its efforts on the mobile market.
“Our users aren’t always at a computer,” said Tony Saigh, business development manager for mobile at Skype. “But 96 percent of the time people have their cell phones within 1 meter of them, so it makes sense for us to extend our application to users on mobile devices. I think it also opens the market up for us to people who want the freedom of using Skype but don’t want to be tied to a computer.”
While these devices will all connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi or, eventually, the WiMax broadband wireless technology, Skype has also struck a deal with a major wireless carrier to embed its application on cell phones that will use the carrier’s 3G cellular network. In October, the company announced the new Skype phone in collaboration with the U.K.-based mobile operator Hutchison 3 UK. The phone, which is being demonstrated at CES, is already available over 3’s network in seven countries, including the U.K., Australia, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, and soon Hong Kong.
“When you look at adoption of VoIP on the PC, it was all about cost avoidance,” said Charles Golvin, an analyst with Forrester Research. “Skype offers some clear feature benefits, but I’m not sure that is going to be enough to entice people to download the service or even encourage carriers to partner with them.”