Mobile Activity Heating Up

Just three days ago I wrote an update post about Skype on mobile; since then lots of blog post activity about the evolution of lower cost mobile calling, including some that is free. Key players in this post: iSkoot, Truphone, Skype and 3, Rogers and, if you read to the end, learn about the newest Blackberry addiction.

iSkoot: From (Blackberry) mobile to Skype or SkypeOut

I have written about iSkoot previously but my update post referenced above did not include iSkoot because I had not been able to log into their beta offering for the past few weeks. I was finally able to get back on this past Friday (two days ago); they have a revamped interface and all the Skype IM and calling features are back. So while on the road Friday afternoon (actually while in a parking lot for safety reasons) I set up, on my Blackberry 8820, a mobile call to Ottawa (from Toronto) via iSkoot. Very simple,

  • for Skype contacts, simply find the contact,
  • check that the contact is Online,
  • click for the Menu, select Call

and a call is made to the Contact’s Skype location. It is a callback algorithm (in my case from a local Toronto number) but the call set up time is about the same time as for setting up a standard Skype call from a PC and you get a message about a call’s progress. For SkypeOut calls,

  • go to the iSkoot’s "SkypeOut" window;
  • if the number is in your SkypeOut Contacts, click for the Menu, select Call
  • if the number you wish to call is not in your SkypeOut Contacts, click for the Menu

    • select SkypeOut, enter the number with country code, click the Call button.

I have made test calls to both Skype and SkypeOut Contacts with excellent call quality. Bottom line for costs beyond my carrier calling plan arrangements: free to SkypeContacts, SkypeOut costs to SkypeOut contacts (for me, free to North America since I have Unlimited North American calling). The only feature lacking is linking the SkypeOut number request to the Blackberry’s address book.

Truphone announces new pricing:

Truphone has announced free calling to landlines in 40 countries as well as mobile in North America (until December 31, 2007) along with reduced costs for calls to mobile outside North America. Comparing their new mobile rates with Skype’s mobile rates shows +/- 15% cost variations by country but Truphone has no connection charges. For instance, calls to German mobile phones are £0.15 on Truphone while £0.12 to £0.14 per minute on Skype; calls to Estonia mobile phones are £0.15 on Truphone while £0.16 per minute on Skype. Not quite a race to the bottom — yet!

Skype rumored to be expanding 3 activity in U.K.

According to a story in yesterday’s Times Online, it appears that Skype and 3, a 3G mobile operator and Skype partner, are about to announce a new deal

… to enable users of a new Skype/3 branded phone unlimited free calls to each other. 3 hopes that the service, which works by sending the calls as data over the internet, will help to lure customers. As the “challenger” mobile operator, it is seeking to stand out in Britain’s fiercely competitive mobile market.

And the story goes on to talk about iPhone’s entry into the U.K. market and the prospects of a Google mobile play that could siphon off mobile advertising revenues from the legacy wireless carriers:

….. The developments, according to analysts, are a frightening prospect for the mobile operators, which are seeing their long-established business models completely disrupted.

…. While the motivation of the different internet players varies, the bottom line is the same, Mr Wood said. “It is simple; the mobile is the most prolific consumer electronics device on the planet – over one billion will be sold this year and everyone wants their brand to be there.”

Rogers Great Canadian Revenue Sustenance Dilemma

Canada is not the most inexpensive country for mobile data plans. In fact, recently it was shown that 500MB per month on Rogers would cost $1,600. So Canadians can tend to be frugal with their data plan usage. Key point here is that Rogers is the only GSM wireless service provider in Canada; according to my microeconomics prof’s definition one would say they have a monopoly on GSM-specific wireless services. It also means that they are the only service provider to benefit from providing roaming services to visitors from any country with GSM services and they can effectively be a gatekeeper for the introduction of GSM-enabled devices into the Canadian market — which includes any new Blackberry devices since Blackberry always introduces GSM versions a few months ahead of any other protocol support.

But they are being challenged on several fronts:

  • iPhone, where Rogers says they are ready but Canada is not a big enough market for Apple to support a launch here yet; but also where Apple looks for relatively low cost unlimited data plans
  • UMA/GAN on Blackberry 8×20 devices where, as Andy is reporting here, and here, that his T-Mobile @ Home service on the 8320 is providing him very low cost calling not only at Starbucks and at his WiFi-enabled home office in the U.S. but also as he travels through U.K., France and Spain. Rogers is a participant in the Canadian Hotspot Network and needs to see usage volumes increase; UMA/GAN would help drive this but at what cost to their GSM voice services? Will Rogers introduce the 8820 into Canada and, at the same time, support UMA/GAN?
  • Bell Canada, which is struggling to build any reasonable wireless market share these days, has introduced an unlimited data plan (and is advertising it heavily) but it comes with restrictions, such as not using it for heavy duty file transfer, downloading music or movies, or VoIP services (athough the network used probably could not provide adequate VoIP capability in any event). Creates lots of debate as to what is meant by ‘unlimited".

It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few months and whether we can expect plans with the costs and service levels seen in the U.S. and Europe. More discussion at Blognation Canada.

Is the newest Blackberry addition spreading across your pants?

With all this Skype IM activity on a Blackberry, you can start to get a lot of Blackberry vibrations — a buzz for every IM message received. Has it the potential to become a phantom addiction? Check out Decoding those Blackberry "phonetoms"; seems like there’s a new Blackberry virus spreading:

Long considered compulsive by the rest of us, BlackBerry addicts are now questioning their sanity after experiencing "phantom vibrations" – or "phonetoms" as one user dubbed the mysterious syndrome – from their beloved wireless email devices.

Reports faux buzzes to Gizmodo.

Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams offered up the best quote on the sort-of phenomenon, saying, "So far, the only good news is that my pocket is vibrating, and that’s OK because it gives me hope that the condition might spread to the rest of my pants."

As a physicist I recall the quantum unit of light is the photon; the quantum unit of sound is phonon; I guess a phonetom is a quantized mode of vibration perceived by the neurons of Crackberry addicts. To every buzz a phonetom.

Tags: Skype, Skype Mobile, iSkoot, , Hutchison, Truphone, Rogers, Blognation Canada, Blackberry, phonetoms

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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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