Skype over Verizon: Skype Becomes a Marketing Weapon in the Carrier Arsenal – Initial Analysis

SkypeOnVerizon.PhonesYesterday’s announcement that Skype will become available as a supported service on Verizon Wireless has to have sent a tsunami through the wireless operator world. To review the offering:

  • A Skype client will be included on nine models of BlackBerry and Android smartphones in late March; current customers with these devices will be able to download the application
  • Free Skype-to-Skype voice calling, both inbound and outbound, worldwide
  • send and receive instant messaging (chat and presence) worldwide at no charge
  • International SkypeOut calling; domestic calls come out of the customer’s voice plan
  • Requires a Verizon voice and data plan
  • Skype-to-Skype and SkypeOut calls as well as Skype IM activity will not impact a customer’s voice plan minutes and data plan usage.

The Background. Yesterday I wrote about the market environment and technology infrastructure that led to the ability to make this announcement

  • It’s Verizon’s answer to AT&T’s forthcoming Skype for iPhone over 3G; however, given that planning and development activity have been ongoing for the past year, it’s a well thought out response with a focus on the user experience.
  • The client will be a customized version of Skype Lite where the voice conversation is carried over the Verizon voice channel while presence indication, chat messages, mood messages and voice call signaling will be carried over the Verizon data channel.
  • Launching a Skype voice call or chat session will be the same process as launching a traditional call.
  • It’s integrated with the Address Book of the device such that all contacts can become Skype or SkypeOut contacts.
  • Both the BlackBerry and Android smartphones can handle multi-tasking such that Skype “data” activity can continue to operate in the background while using other applications on the device.
  • Client is optimized to take advantage of any battery life conservation features, certainly one of BlackBerry’s well known strengths.
  • In response to one question at the press conference, Verizon stated they will not allow network quality to erode as a result of the additional load created by this service.
  • Currently no video calling, file transfer, SMS messaging or WiFi access

Show me the money! Based on information provided by iSkoot at eComm 2008 and 3’s gradual expansion of Skype availability, it would appear at first glance that the business model involves:

  • Verizon receiving a percentage of SkypeOut revenues (Skype has an affiliate program that provides referrers with 25% of SkypeOut revenues – an indicator of Skype’s margin for this service; 3 has offered SkypeOut since summer 2008)
  • Skype receiving software licensing revenue associated with smartphone revenues (sales or lease) and Verizon voice/data plan revenues
  • No termination charges for Skype-to-Skype calls (explains why Verizon can offer this as a free service to their data plan customers)

JohnStratton.JoshSilverman.Skype-Verizon.2010-02-16 The implications:

  • Has the potential to add 90 million Verizon customers to Skype’s user base
  • Verizon customers can call over 500 million Skype accounts worldwide at no cost (probably about 100 million active accounts)
  • SkypeOut becomes the de facto replacement for all Verizon’s other consumer international calling activity, especially for calls to those 44 countries on Skype’s Unlimited World Calling plans.
  • Provides a subtle but significant carrier endorsement of BlackBerry and Android devices.
  • Multi-tasking allows an “always on” user experience; the challenge will be when and how notifications are made of a Skype activity (presence status change, new chat message, etc.) when using other applications
  • the underlying architecture takes advantage of the existing robust and scalable voice architecture while exchanging data over a wireless data service that is widely perceived as the best in the U.S due to the combination of its reliability and coverage.
  • requires the installation of “Skype gateway” servers within Verizon’s infrastructure to terminate Skype calls under Verizon’s management and control, offset by the fact that there are no termination charges for Skype-to-Skype calls.

The downside: The architecture does not allow for WiFi access to Skype. As a result:

  • one cannot readily make calls from WiFi access points outside the U.S. without paying roaming charges which can tend to be expensive. (Skype for iPhone on AT&T or T-Mobile’s @ Home service provide this capability.)
  • calls cannot be made from locations without carrier network coverage (to a large extent Verizon’s U.S. geographical coverage addresses this issue but one can also be deep in a building with WiFi but no carrier).

The Questions:

  • Will Skype Instant Messaging become a replacement for SMS messaging and cannibalize SMS revenues? Skype IM messages simply go out over the data channel as one application for the data plan.
  • What happens when a Verizon customer is roaming in other countries?  Can visitors to Canada or Europe continue to use Skype at no additional cost while in Canada? or will a roaming charge apply?
  • Verizon is currently offering these devices with a “Buy One Now, Get One Free” feature and a two year contract at prices ranging from $29.99 (Storm 1, 8530 Curve)to $179.99 (Storm 2). Will the lack of a low cost phone, such as 3’s Skypephone2, with Pay-As-You-Go impact adoption?
  • What is the level of carrier exclusivity in the deal? Will we be seeing similar offers from T-Mobile US or AT&T any time soon? What portions of the embedded Skype software in the devices are  exclusive to Verizon?
  • Who will be the first Canadian carrier to adopt the Verizon-Skype model? This will be interesting to follow given that:
    • there are no network quality issues with any of the three
    • the Bell Canada/Telus networks can not only support EVDO (same BlackBerries as offered by Verizon) but also GSM/LTE supported devices with their new HSPA+ network launched in time for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.
    • all three carriers now offer the iPhone; in this case Rogers was the original carrier with it.
  • What level of support will Verizon provide for BlackBerry’s app store and Android’s market? Will Verizon facilitate and promote them or even provide an aggregated app store?

Final question: Skype stealthed its way onto AT&T 3G through the combination of supporting calling over WiFi access points (worldwide) and FCC lobbying; Skype is certainly helping to drive iPhone sales at AT&T. Can the combination of carrier-supported “free international calling”, full multi-tasking, a more robust and reliable network and the currently top selling smartphone brand in the U.S. sustain and build Verizon’s user base?

Bottom line: carriers are recognizing that Skype needs to incorporated into their infrastructure as a key element providing both uninhibited access and the network resources to ensure a high quality, positive user conversation experience. Most importantly they are discovering that Skype can become a marketing tool that drives market differentiation and user adoption.

For further commentary Carl Ford and I recorded a podcast conversation yesterday: Jim Courtney & Carl Ford Converse about Skype & VZW.

Update: Andy Abramson has been on-site at MWC and picked up some feedback: Skype, Verizon (and Andy) In the News

Photo: John Stratton, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Verizon Wireless, and Josh Silverman, Skype’s CEO, announcing their strategic relationship to bring Skype to Verizon Wireless smartphones during a press conference at the 2010 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain earlier today. (Via Business Wire, accreditat[on not provided)

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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