Skype/iPhone combo causes operator angst

Early reports would indicate that using the newly-available iPhone version of Skype is a huge leap forward in terms of voice quality--and this is over a 3G connection, not WiFi. This improvement caused one industry commentator to ask whether he needed a voice tariff, or could he just move over to a data plan that also offered SMS and voice mail.

What cannot be avoided is that this move brings together two very high-profile names in a partnership that could threaten to undermine the business model presently being firmly controlled by mobile operators in Europe.

Of most recent note is the announcement from T-Mobile's parent, Deutsche Telekom, that any of its subscribers using mobile VoIP or IM applications were in breach of contract. The company has gone as far as stating that customers who use Skype's new iPhone application could have their Internet service discontinued for violating their contract, adding that the Skype/iPhone application caused congestion in T-Mobile's network. 

T-Mobile, which markets the iPhone on an exclusive basis in five European countries, has the strictest rules on using applications that allow access to the Internet. This is in contrast to Telefonica which allows iPhone Skype using WiFi, while Vodafone has a softer approach claiming that it generally does not block VoIP calls.

But these actions by European operators looks increasingly doomed, helped by the agreement struck earlier this year between Skype and Nokia to ship handsets with the Skype software already installed--a situation that RIM intends to copy for its BlackBerry devices in a few weeks time.

Indications that consumers want to use the service come from the US where the Apple App store has recorded over one million Skype downloads in less than a week. Accepting that this Skype application only allows a connection to a WiFi hotspot, it would appear there is a huge demand for this type of service--and operators will only lose out if they continue to bury their heads further into the sand.--Paul