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Telefonica touts new free VoIP app to cut off rival Skype

Telco bets future of mobile on TU Me

Girl on a mobile phone

Telefonica, owner of the O2 brand, has launched VoIP service TU Me across all its territories, and for all punters with an iPhone, as the telco bets on the future direction of mobile use.

The new service comes out of Telefonica's purchase of Jajah, and follows on from trials of "O2 Connect" last year. However the VoIP call and texting service is selling itself on the user interface and cloud hosting, rather than price, as Telefonica tries to convince customers of other operators to come aboard.

TU Me comes out of Telefonica Digital, the services wing recently launched by the operator, but it follows several years of testing voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) kit from technical and revenue standpoints. At launch, TU Me is iPhone-only and free to use, although only for keeping in touch with other TU Me users, and Telefonica isn't promising to keep it free either.

Instead of talking about the low cost, the operator wants people to admire the slick interface, which groups interactions by person rather than medium - so texts and calls to the same person are listed under their name as long as all the interaction takes place over TU Me, of course. Telefonica also makes much of the cloudy nature of that history, pointing the way towards broader platform support as currently the cloud is only important if you lose your iPhone.

An Android version is promised, but that still wouldn't justify the cloud infrastructure, so expect to see desktop versions in time. For the moment TU Me supports VoIP over Wi-Fi and 3G connections, whether you're with Telefonica or not.

The telco foresees a day when mobile network operators are reduced to wireless bit-pipes just as fixed ISPs are. So, come that day, one will buy connectivity from one supplier and then purchase telephony from a third party just as today one buys movies and music from Netflix or Amazon.

Equally, some suppliers will straddle the divide and provide call services as well as connectivity - today your humble Reg hack can buy music from Vodafone even if I'm not a customer of Vodafone's bandwidth - so Telefonica Digital is stepping up to show it can provide telephony services into such a world - a realm filled with VoIP rivals such as Microsoft-owned Skype.

Which is why Telefonica won't say if, and what, it's going to charge for TU Me. That will depend on what the other service providers do, and if the company's vision of a layered future proves accurate. ®

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