.. in the UK at least. Today, as one partner participating in the 3 X-Series service announcement by Hutchison Whampoa’s 3 Group, Skype has announced its first truly mobile offering where Skype users can make “free” Skype-to-Skype calls on a mobile phone. Starting December 1, 3 Group will launch a new flat fee mobile broadband Internet service in the UK. In the press release related to this announcement Skype CEO Niklas Zennström said:
With 3, I am very proud to say that for the first time, our users can now try out making Skype calls on the move using a mobile phone. We always want to delight our users by letting them try out new ways of keeping in touch. This is a real milestone for Skype because now you can use Skype beyond the PC, no matter where you happen to be.
CIO Now has an excellent detailed description of the impact for Skype; the key points being:
- 3 Group will launch the new X-Series service December 1 in the U.K. and roll it out to the other countries in which 3 Group operates (including Ireland, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong) in early 2007.
- While it will be a flat-fee mobile broadband Internet service, no pricing has yet been announced.
- Initially it will only offer Skype-to-Skype calls; however SkypeOut and SkypeIn services will become available “next year”.
- It will require the much-anticipated Skype for Symbian client to run on the Nokia N73 multimedia personal communicator which will be offered as one of two handset offerings for the service.
The X-series service will also provide:
- Sling Player to watch your (home) cable TV on your mobile phone.
- Instant Messaging with text messaging via Windows Live Messenger or Yahoo Messenger.
- Mobile eBay connectivity
- Access, via Orb Networks, to the digital content that users have stored or accessed on their PC at home, including music files, playlists, digital photos and videos.
- Mobile Google
- A flat fee service that includes a data plan is the only way Skype will make economic sense for users given the amount of “data” and associated overhead involved with Skype’s packets. Will this be the trigger that has other wireless carriers consider flat fee data plan services which could potentially cannibalize their legacy (GSM) wireless phone services?
- 3 Group will apparently be using the 3.5G HSDPA data protocol for this service. Do the costs associated with this protocol provide reduced carrier costs such that flat fee data plans become economically viable?
- As the Nokia N73 is the only device that will include Skype, it confirms that an initial Skype for Symbian client has to be available in December.
- In the web-based collateral (free registration may be required) that includes an interview with Niklas, there is only mention of Skype calls and Skype presence. Specifically there is no mention of text chat. (Will Skype IM suffer a split personality on some mobile devices?) Yet chat will be available in the X-Series Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo Messenger services.
- As for Mobile Skype evolution, it appears that Skype for Symbian will initially lack the full IM (presence plus text chat), SkypeIn and SkypeOut features of Skype Mobile for Windows.
- Latency has always been an issue for mobile VoIP using 2.xG data services; VoIP-based push-to-talk services on 2G can have up to 8 second latency. While my contact network tells me that 3G speeds resolve that issue, it will be interesting to monitor if there remain any latency issues.
- Sling is obviously about to announce a Sling Player for Symbian which I look forward to also trying out.
- When can we expect similar full featured services in North America from Rogers, Cingular and T-Mobile?
I close with this quote from Niklas’ interview produced by Cantos, 3 Group’s video public relations agency
Q. So what’s in this for Skype?A. Over the last three years, we have changed the way people communicate with one another. We also want to continue to delight our users by innovating new ways to communicate, so this offering is the first major offering to bring Skype to a mobile phone, which makes it possible for the 136 million Skype users to use Skype when they’re on the go, on their mobile phone, so they no longer have to sit in front of their PC. That’s a major step for us. Over time, we also intend to improve this offer to include other Skype services. We start with the Skype calling between Skype users, online presence and the contact list. Over time, we hope to also offer Skype Out, Skype In, chat features, and other Skype services.
Interesting times are ahead for the evolution of Skype on mobile services. 3 X-Series is certainly a viable model for mobile Web and VoIP services going forward. Now the challenge is to make this type of service truly available to all 136 million Skype users worldwide – not just the millions who have access to a 3 service!
P.S.: my thanks to SparkPR for providing the 3 X-Series release in advance.
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