Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/07/13/fring_skype/

Fring-Skype iPhone slanging match: Telcos v freetards

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

By Lewis Page

Posted in Mobile, 13th July 2010 12:28 GMT

Analysis P2P VoIP network Skype and client developer Fring have engaged in an epic slanging match after Fring's implementation of mobile-data video calling on the iPhone appeared to result in its ousting from Skype.

At present Apple's own software only allows video calling on the iPhone 4 - the first iPhone to feature a user-facing cam - via the phone's Wi-Fi connection to another iPhone 4. This generally ensures decent call quality; it also placates the mobile networks, who are already struggling to deal with the surge in mobe-data demand precipitated by Apple phones (and to a lesser extent, other smartphones).

Fring's app allows video calling between most smartphones over 3G mobile links as well. However, Fring makes use of other VoIP and IM networks - in particular, of Skype - to actually let its users get in touch with each other, rather as some apps will integrate different IM networks.

Fring, having made it feasible for iPhone users to place video calls via their phones' mobile data radios and tariffs, apparently struggled initially with demand on their own equipment and briefly removed Skype functionality delivered via Skype's API. When they tried to restore it, however, they say that it was found to be blocked from Skype's end.

Fring personnel wrote on a company blog:

Now that fring expanded capacity to support the huge demand for video calling for all users, Skype has blocked us from doing so.

They are afraid of open mobile communication. Cowards.

Skype responded, saying:

An hour or so ago, Fring reported on their blog that we had blocked their access to Skype. I want to make one thing absolutely clear: this is untrue.

Fring was using Skype software in a way it wasn’t designed to be used – and in a way which is in breach of Skype’s API Terms of Use and End User License Agreement. We’ve been talking with Fring for some time to try to resolve this amicably...

Fring’s mis-use of our software was increasingly damaging our brand and reputation with our customers.

Skype built its huge user base by offering free client-to-client calls: most of the costs of this are met by the users, as Skype's peer-to-peer network exploits bandwidth and processor resources from selected user systems ("supernodes") to run itself.

The firm has sought to make money by connecting ordinary phones to the Skype P2P cloud via cheap local calls, allowing ordinary phone users to pay Skype a small sum and get long-distance service which would normally be expensive.

This approach led to much criticism from telcos, who argued that Skype and its users were in effect benefiting from their networks without paying for them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Skype at first suffered many problems with its paid-for SkypeIn and SkypeOut normal-phone connections, which naturally had to be bought in from telcos.

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.