Mobile VoIP? Who Cares, As Long As The Calls Are Cheap

skypephone.jpg3 and Skype have launched the much-rumored “Skypephone”. It’s a basic 3G handset made by a Chinese ODM, using a Qualcomm chipset and the BREW platform (more tech details here). The Skype calling feature works in the pretty much same way as it does on 3’s X-Series handsets: Skype-to-Skype calls aren’t true VoIP calls over the phone’s data connection, but rather standard circuit-switched calls made through a gateway (provided by iSkoot on the X-Series).

But that hardly matters. What’s important here is the pricing: if users top up their prepaid 3 account with at least £10 per month (or pay £12 per month on contract), they get roughly 4000 minutes of Skype-to-Skype usage and 10,000 Skype IMs each month. As Marek Pawlowski notes, the mechanism is largely irrelevant. 3 and Skype are delivering what users want: ever-cheaper voice calls. All that’s really going on here is 3 has created another type of on-network calls that it’s made free, just like calls among users of the same operator, since there’s no termination cost. But they’ve taken some of the guesswork out of it, since it’s clear to users who they can call for free — since they’re listed as a Skype contact — and don’t require previous knowledge of what network somebody’s on. Furthermore, they’ve aligned with the Skype brand, which already carries the image of free and cheap calling.

This should prove to be yet another valuable tool in 3’s arsenal to attract new (and particularly young) users, particularly since it encourages them to sign up in pairs or groups so as to take advantage of the free calls. It also illustrates how the price of voice service continues to towards zero. There is the £10 pound monthly cost — but presumably that can go towards data services or monthly content.

There seems to be a widespread assumption that only “true” VoIP can deliver cheap calls, since that’s what it took in the landline world to really start forcing prices down. However, for the foreseeable future, this sort of hybrid approach used by 3 and Skype will remain more common.

But again, that doesn’t really matter, as all this technology is just a means to an end (something many people in the mobile world forget all too often). Users don’t care about how it works or what technology is being used; they care about the end result — in this case, cheap calls.

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