While operators rage against the dying of the light (oh alright, "hope to cling on to their revenues"), new players are starting to circle like vultures. While Skype is safely (for now) holding hands with the likes of 3, newcomer Fring - which officially launched today - allows people to use their accounts with pretty much any big VoIP player (Skype, Google Talk, er, Fring...) to make cheap calls via mobile.
I spoke with Roy Timor-Rousso, their VP of product marketing, a couple of weeks ago, and it does sound like an interesting service. Aside from being a VoIP-provider-agnostic(ish) client, it's free and should work on your bog-standard Nokia. It also - and here's the killer - allows you to make normal phone calls and send texts through the Fring interface, which should thrill the operators no end! Imports your contacts list too, so there really is no need to go back to the operator's carefully-constructed UI at all.
Quality-wise, they're aiming for "Skype over ADSL", which is fair enough for now.
"The whole user experience is it should be, as easy as making a regular phone call, to the extent that we're adding the sounds of a call going out," Timor-Rousso told me. And hey, why not throw in the operator's worst nightmare while you're at it - presence! Operators hate the idea of presence because it means less revenue from voicemails and so on, but here it is: for VoIP, IM and... normal phone calls. Yikes. It even lets you know what sort of connection the person on the other side is using - 3G, 2.5G etc - so you can know what sort of quality experience to expect.
More from the Fring guy: "Either [operators] play walled garden and become bit pipes at the end, or they can provide alternatives. We expect some offerings coming from the operators, providing the same set of features but with higher quality of service guaranteed because they are able to control the network. But they will have difficulties - operators will have limitations that we won’t have, like much longer sale and production cycles than a small company with no limitations. I also suspect they will also go with one or two types of network solution providers - our competency is providing multiple solution providers".
OK OK, so I don't want to come across all gooey-eyed over this one company, but - whether or not Fring itself takes off - it represents exactly the sort of thing that is building up to seismic changes in the mobile industry, and it's this kind of development that could very well wipe out some of the big boys in the process.