Skype is to compensate some of the users of its SkypeIn service after a swathe of numbers beginning with the London-based prefix 0207 were withdrawn from use.
SkypeIn is a paid-for feature of the internet telephony application that lets users give out a normal-looking phone number to friends and business associates. This allows them to be contacted anywhere through a constant, familiar number rather than requiring friends and associates to remember separate details for landline and Skype access. The choice of a number starting with 0207 is popular largely because it implies a location in central London and therefore gives the caller greater credibility with some companies.
However, in the past few weeks, Skype has been emailing some customers who use 0207 to tell them their numbers would have to be changed because the 0207 numbers would need to be returned to their supplier.
In a blog posting on Friday, Skype's Villu Arak attempted to explain why Skype had to "resort to these unpleasant measures".
"As you may know, Skype obtains SkypeIn numbers from several telecoms operators," wrote Arak. "That's because Skype itself is not a telecommunication company. We make software. So when it comes to things that involve the 'plain old telephone system', we are also someone else's customers. Mostly, this works out without a hitch. We obtain rights to use the numbers and provide them to our users as a neat, inexpensive way to bridge the telephone-Skype divide through SkypeIn."
"Sadly, this simple approach has been hit by a reality check. We spent months in discussions with a telecoms operator to see if we could keep the SkypeIn numbers we rented from them, confident that the issue could be resolved. Hence the somewhat late notice to our users — we never thought things would get this far, given the time and effort put into resolving the situation."
Arak said that those affected SkypeIn customers would get 12 months' free service on their new SkypeIn number, along with free voicemail. "We're very sorry for the trouble and (perfectly justified) swearing that this has caused. Our people are doing their best to make sure that these kinds of unpleasant surprises won't happen again," he added. The number of affected numbers remains unclear.
Don McQueen, the chief executive of GCI Telecom — the erstwhile supplier of those withdrawn 0207 numbers — said on Friday that Skype had refused to pay GCI's fee for renewing the affected numbers. Quoted in PC Pro, McQueen said the wholesale price that GCI would have charged Skype would have been "significantly less" than the £4 monthly charge GCI usually levies on 0207 VoIP numbers. He also said that the price of 0207 numbers had gone up recently because of their popularity in services exemplified by SkypeIn.
Skype charges its SkypeIn customers £10 per quarter or £35 per year for the number itself, alongside additional call charges.
Skype has recently courted controversy as it battles to make a return on the eBay's investment in it. The e-commerce giant bought Skype two years ago. Meanwhile, the company had to make a U-turn earlier this week on its decision to hobble a resolution-boosting feature in its videocalling service, and on Thursday the German police complained that Skype's encryption was hampering its ability to monitor calls made by suspected criminals.