Will “Free” Remain a Key Feature of VoIP Services?

A little sanity moving into the blogosphere? Local blogging colleague Mark Evans1, in a post earlier today, “The Wonderful World of Web 2.0 Whining”, comments on the demands for seven nines reliability and unlimited support from “free” services:

It’s bad enough no one wants to pay for anything, but the expectations placed on free services to deliver 99.99999% reliability are astounding. Come on, what do you expect for nothing?

Still, kvetching about popular services such as Twitter, Skype or Facebook when they have technical hiccups has become a popular game. When it happens, everyone wants to get into the action by complaining, criticizing, attacking and pontificating. The best one recently was Webware’s Rafe Needleman suggesting Twitter should close until its technical issues are resolved.


For some more rational thought on the warped sense of free these days, check out broadstuff, who succinctly pointed out that:

There is this weird idea in the air that if something is free to a user it is free to produce, and thus must still reach all those other norms we take for granted in paid-for services, like reliability, privacy etc.”

“Free” can be a great inducement to try out a service. Skype-to-Skype calling can remain free because there is little capital or operating cost associated with providing the underlying peer-to-peer service with several million positive user experiences. (You and I pay the capital cost when we buy the “peering” hardware between which Skype makes calls.) Skype is a marketer’s dream for sustainably building a user base while keeping the recruitment cost per user close to zero. Having built up this base, it becomes a target market for premium services such as SkypeIn, SkypeOut and partner offerings such as Pamela and Skylook.

Yes, we know Skype support is often via user forums and slow to respond; but then what can one expect for a “free” service. Skype can use their forums as feedback for determining which features are required to reduce support requirements while building more positive user experiences. New features such as providing CallerID for US/Canada users can drive adoption and usage.Of course they are missing a revenue opportunity by not providing a support service such as Red Hat does for Linux and Digium does for Asterisk.

Truphone, a great mobile VoIP service on Nokia N- and E-series mobile phones when in an accessible WiFi zone, finally started charging last week for calls to/from the PSTN while Truphone-to-Truphone calls remain free2. Mobivox is finding they need to cover their costs, even for Mobivox-to-Mobivox calls; this tells me the infrastructure behind Mobivox Girl is an ongoing operating expense due to a different underlying architecture.

The Voice 2.0 Manifesto predicted that “voice will be free; the meter is off”. But we are now starting to see some of the lower bounds of what voice will truly cost, even if minimal, in a Voice 2.0 world.

1Mark is known to be a heavy Skype user in his business activities.
2Truphone also launched Truphone Anywhere a couple of weeks ago allowing users to call Truphone users for the cost of accessing a “local” GSM wireless PoP.

Tags: Skype, Mark Evans, Twitter, Facebook, Truphone, Mobivox, Voice 2.0 Manifesto

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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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