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Closed Skype wants open networks

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eBay's proprietary VoIP service Skype wants the Federal Communications Commission to change its rules on how cellular networks operate.

It's demanding that the US regulator extend a 1968 legal decision, which permitted any device to be attached to the AT&T network, to apply to mobile operators. It also wants a new industry body to decide the standards for the networks, and ensure they comply: effectively bypassing the 3GPP, 3GPP2 and IETF standards bodies.

"After you", the operators may well say.

For Skype is a closed system itself, using a proprietary signalling protocol, in contrast to the open SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) family of industry standards. In addition, the Skype client is closed proprietary software - in contrast to the software libre WengoPhone project, and in contrast to much of the core infrastructure used by VoIP service providers, which is often based on Asterisk, which is available under GPL.

But is the claim justified?

In practice, operators in Europe and the USA permit devices to be attached to the cellular networks, but fastidiously block any services they don't like. Operators regard Skype as piggy-backing onto infrastructure which required billions of dollars of investment. If they open their networks to all-comers, the operators face becoming commoditized "bit pipes". And yet Skype is in a similar position: if open SIP standards continue to gain adoption, it becomes little more than an expensively-acquired, non-standard brand name.

As a piece of grandstanding, then, Skype's submission measures up to Steve Jobs' recent essay where he lamented DRM incompatibilities - as he justified his refusal to license his DRM to anybody else.

The Pot Meets Kettle Awards are certainly going to be busy this year. ®

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