The quick answer is “no.” First of all, some analysts are even predicting that partnering with Facebook may hurt Skype, turning it into a type of dumb pipe. Regardless of the outcome of that specific partnership, service providers would be wise to adopt a “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” mentality, because although the immediate going might be rough, VoIP just might eventually stand for “Various Opportunities, Interesting Potential.”
An example of this interesting potential is Comcast’s announcement that subscribers equipped with special gear will soon be able to use Skype on their HD sets.
VoIP strategies and planning can no longer wait. Service providers have already begun blocking, partnering and launching their own VoIP solutions. Each approach is potentially beneficial to service providers.
Blocking lowers the risk of cannibalizing voice revenue and protects network performance. An example of this approach is T-Mobile Germany’s past decision to block Skype traffic on smartphones with mobile Internet connections. The downside to this approach is negative publicity/customer anger. In fact, customer dissatisfaction most likely played a role in T-Mobile Germany’s later decision to allow Skype with the payment of a premium charge –$14 U.S. or upwards depending on the tariff. It is important to note that the future viability of the blocking strategy may be in jeopardy after The Netherlands became the second country in the world to enshrine the concept of network neutrality into law.
Service providers partnering with over the top (OTT) players can add value with network services, including QoS, security and fixed-mobile convergence, and offer a differentiated service. An example of this approach is Sprint’s decision to allow all of its subscribers to use their existing Sprint phone numbers for Google Voice. One potential drawback is the potential for conflicting interests among the partners.
Launching their own VoIP services will allow service providers to effectively target certain segments (such as students, international callers and business travelers) and lower operator costs through better service design. More importantly, providers can offer unified communications and a unique customer experience by integrating services, such as combining VoIP with video and location.
My sister-in-law lives in Italy (you should taste her cooking!) and we began Skyping with each other a number of years ago. Skype has definitely become more user-friendly and reliable over the years. As the same becomes true for mobile VoIP, service providers will continue to analyze the different options closely to make sure they aren’t missing the boat. There is certainly reason for optimism, in spite of the challenges.
* Special thanks to Eric Danis for his editorial assistance with this blog entry.