Is VoIP the voice of the open mobile Internet?

It may be mobile VoIP that mobile operators use to argue they already embrace the open Internet as the FCC mulls new net neutrality rules.

Last week, Verizon Wireless announced a deal with Google that will see the search giant's Android platform run on Verizon's network but also bring controversial applications such as Google Voice to Verizon subscribers.

The two companies have clashed for several years over net neutrality principles and over the prospect of VoIP services running over the network, which threaten to erode Verizon's voice business.

Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam said during a conference call that the operator will launch two Android devices this year on its 3G network, which will be the beginning of a multi-year road map for such devices and applications. Google and Verizon also plan to collaborate on a number of Android devices that will come preloaded with applications from both companies as well as third-party developers.

Meanwhile, AT&T Mobility decided to change its stance on banning VoIP over 3G applications on Apple's iPhone. The carrier said it informed both Apple and the FCC of its decision. The change in policy means users of VoIP applications on the iPhone, such as Skype, will no longer be relegated to using the device's WiFi connection for VoIP calling. It is also a significant turnaround for AT&T, which earlier this year said allowing VoIP apps on the iPhone to run over its 3G network could cripple the network. Indeed, AT&T has openly discussed the strain iPhone usage, in general, has placed on its network. VoIP already runs on other AT&T devices.

Indeed, these appear to be moves to show the commission that operators already embrace net neutrality. Moreover, some of the companies making the most noise around net neutrality are VoIP companies. Skype still has a Carterphone petition sitting in front of the FCC.

Skype has been bumping up against operators for quite some time, and it has been looking for ways around these gatekeepers, including running to the FCC in a bid to force operators to open their networks and partnering with third parties like Nokia and Intel to embed Skype software in mobile devices. Skype's creation of the Skype application for the iPhone significantly raised the company's profile in the mobile community and is creating awareness among mobile customers that operators don't want Skype around.

Skype praised AT&T Mobility's move, but still called for FCC net neutrality regulations.

"Since launching our iPhone application six months ago, consumers have downloaded and installed Skype on 10% of all iPhone and iPod touch devices sold. This clearly demonstrates that our customers are extremely interested in taking Skype conversations with them on the go on the iPhone. We applaud today's announcement by AT&T to open up its 3G network to Internet calling applications such as Skype. It is the right step for AT&T, Apple, millions of mobile Skypers and the Internet itself. Nonetheless, the positive actions of one company are no substitute for a government policy that protects openness and benefits consumers and we look forward to further innovations that will enable even more mobile Skype calling," Josh Silverman, CEO of Skype, said in a statement last week.

Certainly, mobile VoIP threatens the valuable voice calling revenues of mobile operators, but it appears operators' immediate concern is staving off the regulatory hand of the FCC. Will the next step be what Skype has wanted all along? To work more closely with mobile operators? Skype has said in the past it has a desire to work as a partner with mobile operators to make mobile VoIP services more widespread. For operators, there won't be any turning back once they allow more widespread VoIP services so it's in their best interest to partner with players like Skype to help monetize the service.--Lynnette

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