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03 April 2009

Skype hype: 1 million downloads and a ban but operators wary !

03 04 2009 - If you wanted to make a kerfuffle about neutrality you could do worse than launch an mobile VoIP application, stick it on Apple's App Store and then watch it downloaded by the hundreds of thousands. Which is what Skype has done with its iPhone client, reports Ian Scales.

In fact Skype has arguably kicked off one of the fastest episodes of online software distribution in the short history of online software distribution. The VoIP provider says there were 1 million downloads of the new Skype iPhone client, launched on Tuesday, in its first two days. That's a huge wave of user enthusiasm and a very difficult mass action to ignore - you might have thought.

Except such considerations don't easily penetrate the bureaucratic mind. Right on cue Deutsche Telekom in Germany popped up with dire warnings to its users of disconnection should Skype be used on its iPhones. By using Skype, even when just across WiFi, DT has pointed out that users would contravene its terms and conditions.

Deutsche Telekom then compounded its sin by mumbling unconvincingly about the applications compatibility with its networks, implying technical reasons for its decision to uphold the ban on Skype.

Since 'technical non-compliance' has been a recurrent refrain from telcos wanting to restrict the connection of devices to 'their' networks since at least the 1960s and the famous Carterfone test case, this doesn't convince anyone.

DT is upholding its VoIP ban because it doesn't want to lose voice revenue and it thinks that allowing Skype to insert a wedge between itself and its voice customers will hasten the day when this will become a real problem.

So why did Apple let Skype on the store with the VoIP client and clearly risk upsetting a major partner? From Apple's standpoint, operator positions are diverse on the issue.

n the US, DT's mobile operator, T-Mobile, doesn't appear to have restrictions (only in Europe); Telefonica allows Skype over WiFi (but not its 3G network); and Vodafone doesn't appear to threaten its customers at all.

In any case there are already many mobile VoIP clients available for mobile phones - many of them using the mobile data channel, not just WiFi.

But the timing is interesting. Just as the European Parliament is considering a new set of amendments to allow Internet service providers to 'manage' traffic on their networks (ie to de-neutralise the Internet), DT reminds us again how technical arguments are so readily wheeled out in support of commercial ends in the telecoms market.

Source: TelecomTV



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