Deutsche Telekom is threatening to stop customers from using the new Skype application on their Apple iPhones, according to the Financial Times.
Deutsche Telekom markets the iPhone on an exclusive basis in five European countries and a non-exclusive basis in several others. In Germany and France, iPhone users' contracts already prohibit them from using VoIP. Deutsche Telekom claims this is due to worries about Skype's compatibility with its own data network.
Skype has dismissed the claim. Since its launch last week, Skype's iPhone application has been downloaded more than 1 million times.
Incumbent operators seem to be more worried about the threat from Skype than their smaller rivals. 3 launched a Skypephone as part of its prepaid commercial mobile offering at the end of 2007 in Italy, the UK, Australia and six other markets.
On 30th March 3 issued a statement which pointed out that unlike the iPhone's Wi-Fi-only app, 3's Skype application, which "uses 3G and not Wi-Fi to connect the call, (so) our customers can make a call whenever they're in signal'.
The operator is also at pains to point out that its Skype-enabled offerings are available on contract from Â£9 a month as well as for pre-pay customers who regularly top up. 3 says it carries over 1 million minutes of free Skype to Skype calls every month, offers the original Skypephone and the Skypephone S2 plus the INQ1 Facebook phone with dedicated Skype functions.
The question of regulation is a knotty one - VoIP falls outside the basket of regulated services in the EU and is generally considered a grey area. Different countries have a different attitude, but at national and EU level, the greatest focus so far is how to guarantee access to emergency services via VoIP as opposed to consumers rights to use VoIP services across any network they choose.
However, as VoIP is becoming an ever more mainstream technology, there will be increasing pressure on national and regional regulators to clarify the situation. Skype, which is owned by eBay, claims to have 405 million registered users and last year became the largest carrier of international calls.
Revenue last year was $550 million and executives say that by 2011 they expect that to reach $1 billion.