Skype: the “Unofficial” Personal Communications Software for the 2010 Winter Olympics?

Two announcements yesterday, when meshed together, create the setting for Skype to become, de facto, the ‘”unofficial” personal communications software provider for the 2010 Winter Olympics at Vancouver and Whistler, B.C. next February:

Skype President Josh Silverman today posted: “Good Move AT&T”:

Since launching our iPhone application six months ago, people have downloaded and installed Skype on 10% of all iPhone and iPod touch devices sold – making it clear that people are extremely interested in taking Skype conversations with them on the go.

All of us at Skype applaud today’s announcement by AT&T (in an FCC filing to be published shortly – update, it’s here in PDF format) that it’ll open up its 3G network to Internet calling applications such as Skype. It’s the right step for AT&T, Apple, millions of mobile Skype users and the Internet itself.


TwoNetworks.Canada.iPhone3GS.250px Bell Canada’s Mobility service and Telus yesterday announced both the launch of their new joint-venture HSPA+ network across Canada next month and their agreement to be selling Apple’s iPhone amongst other 3G/GSM phones such as Nokia’s line. In fact, as shown on the right, the existence of the new network, with the identifier “302880”, can already be detected via the iPhone’s Carrier settings .

The implications of this announcement:

  • Bell Mobility and Telus expect their HSPA+ network to completely replace their current CDMA/EV-DO network within five years.
  • Bell Mobility and Telus will be providing direct competition to Rogers who, to date, has been the sole GSM carrier in Canada and will be able to offer a full range of 3G GSM phones – not only the iPhone but also Nokia’s GSM-exclusive line of phones.
  • As a benefit of their current monopoly Rogers has also been the only carrier offering Apple’s iPhone since its Canadian launch in July, 2008. Canada now becomes one of the few countries with multiple carriers offering the iPhone.
  • As another benefit of their GSM monopoly Rogers has been the sole network available for roaming by visitors from outside the U.S. and Canada as well as AT&T and T-Mobile customers from the U.S. Since athletes and visitors coming to the Vancouver Olympics from outside North America will have GSM phones, Bell Mobility and Telus will now be able to draw away from Rogers a significant portion of the roaming business that otherwise would have accrued by default to Rogers.
  • Bell Canada is the “official” communications carrier for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. Bell Mobility has built out their new HSPA+ network from the Telus network connection in Vancouver along the Sea-to-Sky highway to Whistler, site of the alpine and cross-country skiing events as well as bobsleigh, luge and skeleton “sliding” races.
  • Sea2SkyHiway.FurryCreek.240px Additional communications capacity between Vancouver and Whistler has been built by Bell Canada for Internet communications, the 35 to 40 Mbps voice and data backhaul required for each of the wireless towers and the HD 5.1 surround sound television coverage that will include all events. No doubt a lot of fibre has been installed as BC Highways rebuilt the Sea to Sky Highway over the past few years to meet the Olympics’ inherent demands both additional vehicle capacity and enhanced safety. Being the “official” carrier this will benefit Bell Canada’s revenue stream also.

This raises the question of whether an HSPA-only service can run on the iPhone or BlackBerry Bold both of which currently only support 3G. The answer is Yes; HSPA will support 3G devices.

However, an HSPA+ network can only fall back to a 3G network capability when full HSPA capability is not supported by a device. But the iPhone and BlackBerry Bold also support 2G/EDGE networks.

As a result should a Bell Mobility or Telus customer leave an HSPA+ coverage area, there is no EDGE available for fall back when outside these areas. For example,when we drive the freeway from Toronto to Ottawa, we see EDGE for most of the trip except near Toronto, Kingston and Ottawa where Rogers 3G coverage exists. Either Bell and Telus will require roaming agreements with Rogers to provide non-urban service or they will not be able to offer as complete coverage to their customers.

Of course, those landlines will be able to support Skype on laptop PC’s using Ethernet or WiFi connections. But combining the two announcements along with Skype for iPhone’s recent availability in Canada, can Skype become the overall de facto “unofficial” personal communications software provider for the 2010 Olympics? Questions to be answered:

  • Will Skype release a version of Skype for iPhone that supports both WiFi and 3G as the underlying wireless protocols prior to the Olympics?
  • Will Skype finally release Skype for BlackBerry? (to address Phil’s desire for Skype on a multi-tasking smartphone)
  • Will we see execution on Skype’s agreement with Nokia?
  • Will the various communications and “Internet cafe” rooms for athletes and press be equipped with enough power sources to keep the various smartphones charged conveniently?
  • Will Bell Canada have the same policy re Net Neutrality as Rogers who has publicly stated their primary business in providing Internet access and not managing applications or specific customer uses?
  • Has Bell Canada signed the appropriate international roaming agreements with carriers around the world?

Certainly it’s within the realm of current technology to support Skype over wireless networks, whether WiFi or wireless carrier. Bell Canada touts their 2010 Olympics commitment as being “The first all-IP Olympics”. The question that remain:

  • To what extent will the Skype ecosystem actually be able to execute on, and take full advantage of, this underlying IP-based communications infrastructure?
  • Will Skype’s popularity, ease-of-use and combined voice/chat/video feature set make it the de facto “unofficial” voice, chat and video personal communications software provider for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics?

Call it Skype Everywhere by Stealth…. but can Skype execute on the challenge?

Disclaimer: Bell Canada, including its Bell Mobility wireless business unit, is the official communications services provider for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Skype is a software application, with over 500 million registered accounts worldwide, that uses these communications services for the purpose of voice, instant messaging and video conversations; however, Skype is in no way affiliated with, or endorsed, by the 2010 Winter Olympics Committee.

Full disclosure: For over thirty-five years the author has personally observed the growth of Whistler from a small and remote “boutique” ski area with one tragically slow 4-person per cabin gondola lift and a few double chairlifts into North America’s number one rated ski resort covering two mountains and capped off last year by the opening of a 4.4km peak-to-peak gondola that takes riders as high 436m above the valley floor. Concurrently the Sea-to-Sky highway has grown from a twisty, up-and-down adventure (and risky) roadway with some sections on wooden platforms on stilts anchored to rock walls over canyons to a safe multi-lane, yet still scenic, roadway. (I still consider it one of Canada’s most scenic highways.)

Some background on Bell Canada’s commitment to the Olympics:

  • A fully redundant fibre-optic network between Vancouver and Whistler to support essential broadcast traffic. Bell has successfully laid fibre to the front door of every major Olympics and Paralympics venue, and will ultimately connect all of the 130 competition and non-competition venues to our dedicated Olympics network
  • Bell’s fibre-optic network will provide all voice, data and broadcast services for fans, media, athletes and officials from around the world, and will be the backbone that enables all Olympics and Paralympics connectivity. This includes 400,000 private radio calls, 10,416 hours of dedicated TV broadcast coverage to more than three billion viewers, timing and scoring results delivered in the blink of an eye, and more
  • The highest level of reliability and redundancy and the most up-to-date technology for the full range of Olympics telecommunications services, including voice, data, broadcast video and audio, wireless PCS and private radio
  • Provision of all hardware, cabling, logistics and support staff
  • An unprecedented level of support to the Rights Holding Broadcasters, in particular the Broadcasting Service for the Olympic Games
  • Internet portal services enabling an interactive, multilingual window to Canada and the world
  • The first all-IP Olympic Games
  • All built to minimize environmental impact by co-locating equipment to minimize footprint, coordinating construction schedules to reduce waste and using IP-based technology to dramatically reduce cabling and infrastructure needs
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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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