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Fring-Skype iPhone slanging match: Telcos v freetards

Skype grows up, gets haircut, goes to work for The Man

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Skype, telcos - that mobile data link isn't yours to do as you like with

With the advent of smartphones, Skype at first seemed to be carrying on with the same philosophy. For a long time, the only way to use Skype itself (as opposed to Fring or similar things) on a smartphone was a Windows Mobile app, which had no video-calling but did permit the use of the phone's mobile data link rather than Wi-Fi.

Subsequently, however, Skype started doing deals with mobile operators: often this would see the handset connecting to Skype's P2P network using a normal voice channel rather than data, relieving pressure on data services.

After much delay a version of Skype appeared for the iPhone: but users should note that it offers no video, and furthermore that Skype calls on iPhones via 3G will be subject to a monthly fee from the end of this year. There are other deals in place on other platforms, all done in full cooperation with mobile providers.

Meanwhile the Windows Mobile client has quietly vanished (though it still works for the moment) along with the Skype Lite app that let mobile users connect to Skype using their voice minutes without any mobe-network involvement.

The erstwhile P2P freetard business would rather say in public that the WinMo app was canned due to issues with getting the audio to come out of the right speaker*, and that Fring have been locked out because their initial iPhone 4 capacity struggle blackened Skype's good name for quality call service (!!). But this isn't vastly credible.

Skype would seem to be trying harder and harder these days to make money rather than merely sign users - in particular by working with the telecoms networks rather than banging heads with them.

Fring, on the other hand, is sticking very much to the wild idea that if a person owns a device with a data link - and has a deal to pay a certain sum for data service - they should be able to do what they like with these things. Helping users do this may not make any money, but who cares? Not Fring, so far.

Such notions are of course a bitter pill for mobile telcos who may have paid billions for 3G licences, hoping to reap a rich bonanza charging fat per-minute fees for video calling - only to find that all they get is a relatively paltry monthly data fee. They'd rather, at the very least, get a slice of iPhone-style extra payment on top of the data tariff - especially if they're going to have to sink large sums into upgrading their data networks to cope with demand, as seems very necessary in many cases.

In any case, the telco fatcats would say, you probably only have that smartphone because we bought it for you: it's not really yours, it's ours and we'll say what you can do with it and what that will cost you.

Users might reasonably counter-argue that the costs of subsidising smartphones are more than repaid via lengthy contracts with hefty monthly fees, and maybe it would be nice to at least ease up on the locking and crippling a bit.

And so the long winter evenings fly by. This battle looks set to run and run. ®

*This was an issue with the WinMo app, which tended to put the audio out through the external speaker rather than the earpiece one. It was/is easily dealt with by using a headset, however.

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