Skype’s mobile assault: iPhone client due tomorrow, Blackberry in May

Chicago (IL) – Beginning tomorrow, the Internet telephony giant Skype should release a mobile client
for iPhone and iPod touch. The application will allow users to make
free VoIP calls to other mobile and desktop Skype accounts, or to place cheap VoIP
calls to landlines and mobile phone numbers, albeit only over the Wi-Fi
network. The company also announced a Blackberry client slated for May, rounding up its initiative to expand aggressively into the lucrative mobile
phone markets. Surprisingly, the advent of the most popular VoIP service
for cellphones isn’t chilling carriers anymore who have found ways to
profit from the initiative.

SLIDESHOW:
Skype for iPhone and iPod touch (8 pictures)

The eBay-owned Internet-based telephony giant told NY Times
that Skype for iPhone and iPod touch will finally be released this
Tuesday with support for various Blackberry phones around May. These clients arrive on the heels
of previously announced versions for the Windows Mobile and Android platforms (the lite version for Android is already available in the Android Market) and Intel MIDs. A number of Nokia-branded handsets were also promised compatible Skype client.

Mobile Skype looms

Just
as in desktop Skype, the mobile client allows users to exchange instant
messages, make free VoIP calls to other mobile or desktop Skype users, and even send and receive files over mobile platforms that allow users
access to the phone’s file system — like Windows Mobile. In addition,
the Luxembourg-based company said mobile Skype will allow users who purchased Skype credits to place calls to landlines and mobile
phones around the world at rates several times cheaper than ordinary
mobile phone calls, typically 2.1 cents a minute and up for landline calls.

Skype for iPhone:  Limited to Wi-Fi only

Skype
for iPhone and iPod touch will most likely be limited to VoIP
calls only over Wi-Fi networks due to Apple’s agreement with carriers
which prohibit VoIP applications from using their cellular network, thus
protecting carrier’s financial interests and bandwidth — though interestingly, mobile Skype for most
other mobile platforms allows VoIP calls over both Wi-Fi and cellular
networks. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since all AT&T’s iPhone
plans include unlimited 3G data. From AT&T’s perspective, unlimited
data may tempt users to use VoIP applications on the cellular network
at the expense of voice minutes included in iPhone plans, thus decreasing their bottom line, thus a big no-no for the company.

You’d
be right to argue that the AT&T shouldn’t care since it collects
a monthly fee for the selected plan regardless of whether or not iPhone
owners spend all their allocated minutes or not. On the other hand, AT&T makes
money by charging iPhone users for additional voice calls exceeding
their set monthly minutes, and at a very hefty rate compared to the low- to no-cost Skype alternative now being offered. From this perspective, it’s understandable
that AT&T fears users who routinely exceed minutes included with their plans
would immediately switch to VoIP services (like Skype) that offer free or
significantly cheaper voice calls over the Internet.

FINALLY ON THE IPHONE!Skype on iPhone and iPod touch integrates with your address book. Calling screen (left) will be familiar to any iPhone user. The clients also support instant messages (right), free VoIP calls to other mobile and desktop Skype users and cheap international landline and mobile phone calls. VoIP functionality is limited to Wi-Fi networks only until Apple relaxes its agreement with carriers that prohibits VoIP programs from reaching cellular data networks.

Read on the next page:  Fear of the VoIP, Skype mobile replacements, Conclusion, EXTRA: VIDEOS

Fear of the VoIP

While
broad availability of public Wi-Fi hotspots in urban areas will make
the Skype-for-iPhone limitations bearable, the application will fully
shine only when Apple finally removes the aforementioned VoIP restrictions
from its carrier agreements. Experts view Apple’s agreement as the
last remnant of carrier’s decades-old refusal to accept VoIP services
over their well-established, wide-access networks. There are signs now that cellphone operators are
changing their stance however, viewing VoIP applications as a tool that draws
subscribers and helps sell data services. In addition, most data plans
for mobile phones are capped — meaning extensive use of VoIP programs
eats up their monthly allowance, enabling carriers to charge for traffic exceeding the set limit.


SKYPE ON NOKIA N97
Skype client is available on a range of Nokia-branded devices. Java-based client works on more than 100 other Java-enabled mobile phones from Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Motorola and LG. by going to the Skype website in your phone’s browser.

For example, a typical Skype call
(at up to 6.25 Kbps bi-directional) lasting 10 minutes would translate to nearly $4 data
charge on Verizon’s costly no-commit $2 per MB plan ($0.40 per minute, excluding any Skype charges). Such charges make
unlimited data plans a natural fit for services like Skype. While here
in the U.S. carriers are slowly accepting new realities, carriers in
Europe don’t block Skype on cellular networks since consumers have
freedom to choose software, network and device they wish to use.

So
far, both T-Mobile and Verizon allow mobile Skype user for their
respective Android G1 and HTC Touch Pro users. Skype’s COO Scott Durchslag said the company might share revenue with other carriers who are reluctant to allow the service on their networks.


Thin Skype client for Android is available in the Android Market since mid-January. It supports IM, free Skype-to-Skype calls and cheap SkypeOut calls. Unlike upcoming iPhone version, Skype Lite for Android G1 supports VoIP over both Wi-Fi and 3G networks, thanks to Skype’s deal with T-Mobile.
(No video? Watch it on YouTube!)


Skype is also coming to Windows Mobile devices. The client will support file transfers since Windows Mobile allows users access to  the file system. Just like with Android version, Skype has reached an agreement with Verizon that allows Skype VoIP calls over the carrier’s data network.
(No video? Watch it on DailyMotion!)

Skype mobile replacements

The lack of an official mobile Skype application thus far has created opportunities for third-party services and applications like Fring that
work across major mobile platforms and provide Skype-like connectivity (IM
and VoIP) along with other popular services — including Microsoft’s Windows Live
Messenger or Google’s Gtalk. While such solutions enable basic
support for free or paid Skype-like calls on cellphones, they usually lack
the more sophisticated features found in the desktop Skype application, like
call forwarding, in-application calling credit renewal, browsing and
searching Skype users database, etc.


SKYPE MOBILE ON MIDs
Beta version of Skype for MIDs based on the Intel Atom processor and Moblin-based Linux OS is now available for download. ABI Research expects 86 million Linux-powered MIDs to ship by 2013,

Conclusion

The arrival of
an official mobile Skype client is deemed a game-changer in the
cellphone market, one fragmented with a number of third-party replacement
services with no clear leader in sight. With 400 million registered desktop
users, and nearly 17 million active daily users, Skype is very well positioned to claim the mobile phone market
with its upcoming mobile Skype clients. According to the research firm PriMetrica
Inc
., Skype is the world’s largest provider of cross-border voice
communications.

 Skype’s chief operating officer, Scott Durchslag, warned that Apple’s
agreement with carriers forbid Skype from
accessing AT&T’s 3G data network. He said Skype expansion into mobile space was expected. “Mobile devices are where the majority of the world’s conversations are happening these days,” he said.

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