To battle handset VoIP, cell carriers have three alternatives

Earlier this week, colleagues Stefanie Olsen and Marguerite Reardon wrote and posted a quite insightful article called "VoIP wants to cut the computer cord."Their premise is that mobile users already predisposed to using VoIP don't necessarily want to open their laptop to access these services via softphone - say, a Skype or notebook-to-phone network-capable souped up IM utility.

Earlier this week, colleagues Stefanie Olsen and Marguerite Reardon wrote and posted a quite insightful article called "VoIP wants to cut the computer cord."

Their premise is that mobile users already predisposed to using VoIP don't necessarily want to open their laptop to access these services via softphone - say, a Skype or notebook-to-phone network-capable souped up IM utility. And yes, few people want to schlep around an adapter. Imagine explaining that to airport security.

Olsen and Reardon are betting on near-term ubiquity of softphones that are compatible with PDAs. 

Softphone compatibility with PDAs is not the issue for me, though. Compatibility does not necessarily translate into customers.

If I offered a softphone, a key question for me would be how do I get my icon on the handset in a way that does not step on the toes of that handset manufacturer's cell partners?

Do you really think the cellular carriers are going to stand idly by and let low priced, over-the-air VoIP take away their business?  The way I see it, cell has three alternatives:

  • Play hardball with the handset manufacturers to keep third-party softphones off handsets;
  • Compete with the softphone providers on prices;
  • Pursue acquisition of or alliances with, softphone providers.

To me, the third strategy would be the wisest.

That's another reason why I think Google Talk would be a wonderful softphone for Verizon Wireless as both a softphone component to Verizon VoiceWing and as a hedge against Verizon Wireless customers who might think about not renewing after being presented with mobile VoIP alternatives.

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