Beware the Skype-iPhone hype-fest

Summary:There’s a battle heating up in the burgeoning voice-over-wifi (VoW) space.On the one hand you have Skype, which has just launched its eponymous app for the iPhone and, despite the almost audible gnashing of teeth from the mobile operators, has reportedly become a hugely popular app for the Jesus phone.

There’s a battle heating up in the burgeoning voice-over-wifi (VoW) space.

On the one hand you have Skype, which has just launched its eponymous app for the iPhone and, despite the almost audible gnashing of teeth from the mobile operators, has reportedly become a hugely popular app for the Jesus phone. Skype is claiming that it’s had a million downloads in two days, and that’s the top download in the App Store. If true, that’s big.

Gnashing of teeth? It’s all about conflict of interest. Skype takes voice traffic and routes it over a Wi-Fi hotspot, or your home or office Wi-Fi network. The mobile operators make no money out of voice over Wi-Fi: they make money out of voice calls and data traffic routed over their cellular networks.

And that’s the attraction of Skype for end users, and why mobile operators have dragged their feet over the years. Many mobile operator contracts include a phrase that explicitly forbids users from using VoIP applications, for just this reason.

Yet over recent months, some operators have relaxed this stipulation in the face of vociferous end-user protests, via both their wallets and by the generation of poor publicity. End users want no limits on what they can do with their devices and data feeds, while operators want a walled garden that constricts end user choices to those that generate revenue -- but they’d still rather have some of your business than none of it.

As a result, Skype is likely to become accepted across all networks. So what’s the conflict I mentioned at the top of this story? There’s another VoW player in the mobile space, namely Truphone.

This company’s been around for a while but its business model differs from Skype’s in that Truphone reckons its service ‘provides Skype calls outside of Wi-Fi on the iPhone’.

Close, but not quite true: it provides voice over Wi-Fi and cellular networks -- not Skype calls. As you’ll know, Skype’s a proprietary system, only Skype knows how it works, so only Skype applications can use it.

As an aside, it’s interesting though, in that it’s the first time I’ve seen the word ‘Skype’ used generically to mean voice over Wi-Fi -- maybe I need to get out more.

That issue aside, Truphone’s system allows you to make calls when not in Wi-Fi coverage by routing the first leg of the call over the mobile network -- just like a standard call, says Truphone, -- and then running the call from there over Truphone's own network.

The advantage here is that the mobile network’s coverage is always going to better than that of Wi-Fi, a technology whose coverage is measured in metres, not kilometres like the cellular networks.

Is it important? When you compare the hype-fest surrounding Skype to Truphone, possibly not.

Truphone’s is also a paid-for service, not free like Skype’s. But if you want coverage wherever you go and don’t want to pay the extortionate prices charged by mobile operators for calls outside the UK, Truphone is a viable alternative.

The moral? Beware hype-fests: like that surrounding the iPhone, glitz often wallpapers over a multitude of shortfalls. -- Update: Oops: obviously I do need to get out more! I’m informed by Truphone that it does provide Skype calls and that it’s the only service using Skype’s network to allow you to call IM buddies. And like Skype, Truphone to Truphone calls are free until you traverse an operator’s network at which point charges can apply. Apologies for the mis-information.

Topics: Networking

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Editor, journalist, analyst, presenter and blogger. As well as blogging and writing news & features here on ZDNet, I work as a cloud analyst with STL Partners, and write for a number of other news and feature sites. I also provide research and analysis services, video and audio production, white papers, event photography, voiceo... Full Bio

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