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Skype not ready for mobility

Mobile chief says network tariffs make it impractical

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Skype's head of mobile access has said that until network operators stop charging by the quantity of data transmitted then Skype won't be available on mobile phones.

Skype is a popular VoIP service which offers free calls to other Skype users, but if the user is paying their network operator for the data they use then the calls can be anything but free.

"We don't want to be in a situation where we say: 'Skype is free' and then at the end of the month the user gets this huge broadband bill," Eric Lagier told Reuters at CES.

When the idea of Skype on 3G was first mooted many networks responded that it wasn't a problem: given the amount they intended to charge for data they would make more money on a Skype call than a normal voice connection. But with the emergence of Wi-Fi networks, and Wi-Fi-capable handsets, unlimited connectivity is available; and with the promise of free calls such connectivity could challenge the dominance of network operators.

All this seems to make sense, until you remember that T-Mobile already offers a largely unlimited tariff with Web 'n' Walk (capped, like most ADSL broadband connections), and that 3 are already offering unlimited Skype calls – though they aren't doing proper VoIP as they depend on the voice channel for the wireless portion of the connection.

So it might seem that this is just an excuse to draw attention to the problems Skype has had getting its software ported to mobile phone handsets. Competitive products such as Truephone work on Nokia N-Series handsets, so it can be done. Fring is even integrated with the Skype network, albeit though a gateway, and works perfectly well over the T-Mobile network.

Doing without that gateway might be complicated: the Skype protocol was never intended to work on mobile phones, and problems have been reported in the past, so it's easy to believe that technical problems, rather than business needs, lie at the back of this pronouncement.®

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