A month ago at Mobile World Congress, Skype and Verizon stole the spotlight by announcing Verizon’s forthcoming Skype mobile service. This afternoon at CTIA in Las Vegas, Verizon and Skype announced that the service will launch in two days on Thursday, March 25 (think Christmas in March).
If there was one overriding theme that came out of the press conference today, it was “it’s about the user experience”. Skype’s Russ Shaw emphasized this during our CES interview in January; Josh Silverman, Skype CEO and John Stratton, Verizon Wireless Chief Marketing Officer, reinforced this during the Mobile World Congress press conference.
- Make it as easy to make a Skype call as to make a circuit switched wireless call.
- Find a name in the address book and press a “Call” button.
- Provide free Skype-to-Skype voice and IM conversations to any Skype contact worldwide
- Without any charge against voice minutes or data usage
- Provide an “always on” experience by allowing the application to run in background
- Receive IM chat messages and Skype voice calls while running other applications
- Provide ongoing “presence” status via Skype IM
- Merge the device address book with your Skype contacts to ensure ready availability for both making and receiving a call
- whether a normal voice call, a Skype-to-Skype call or an international call via SkypeOut
- Run the voice conversation over a proven, scalable, reliable voice network
- that also has maximum geographical coverage
- receive calls anywhere, anytime – not tethered to a PC for Skype conversations
- Optimize for longer battery life
- Make the download and installation a default with minimal, if any, user intervention
- Make it available to all your existing customers who have bought either BlackBerry or Android smartphones in the past
- going back to the original 8830 BlackBerry World Edition and the Curve 8330
- also available on the BlackBerry Storm, Storm 2, Curve 8530, Tour 9630 and three Android models
- Two other points made: the service is CALEA-compliant and E911 access remains available via the Verizon voice channel.
Customers will be able to access and install Skype mobile in one of four ways:
- For existing BlackBerry customers the application will be pushed to their BlackBerry’s home screen over the next few days after launch
- New BlackBerry customers will find the application on their home screen
- Android users will be able to install the application from the Google App store
- The application can also be downloaded by going to www.skype.com/go/mobile
- Text “SKYPE” to 2255 to receive a download link
While there is no universal Skype for BlackBerry yet, the Verizon offering demonstrates how Skype can take advantage of the BlackBerry’s feature set:
- optimize for battery usage
- “always on” Skype connection by running the Skype mobile client in background
- using BlackBerry’s “push” technology to push the Skype application to all (existing) Verizon customers on BlackBerry
There are some limitations:
- No WiFi; must be in a location where Verizon signal is available
- not deep in an underground location
- No roaming with Skype;
- Skype calls can only be made while on the “Home” Verizon network in the U.S.
- Limited audio bandwidth using the inherent Verizon voice network
- No SILK codecs involved; probably G.729
One final note: When asked about exclusivity, Skype’s Russ Shaw, GM for Mobile replied to the effect that “the Skype mobile experience is exclusive to Verizon” and that “features and functionality won’t be elsewhere”. Leaves a lot open to interpreation; we’ll see as Skype for Symbian and Skype for iPhone evolve.
Bottom line: While it will be a great service for Verizon’s customers wherever they are in the U.S., there are limitations such that the service is not available for international travel. It’s a service that is not only available to new customers but to their entire legacy base of BlackBerry and Android users.
The service, however, provides an initial step for getting Skype onto a mobile service with revenue generation for both Verizon and Skype. The big question is “Will it drive new users for Verizon?”
Yes, this post only covers the basics; more commentary to follow.
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