Is Skype disruptive? subversive? in trouble?

A typically interesting post on VoIP Watch turns into another fascinating conversation as mobility bloggers discuss whether or not Skype is a) disruptive, b) subversive, or c) in trouble and headed for more. There are good points being made by everyone chiming in and, frankly, I remain on the fence as to who will ultimately prove most prescient in their analysis.

A typically interesting post on VoIP Watch turns into another fascinating conversation as mobility bloggers discuss whether or not Skype is a) disruptive, b) subversive, or c) in trouble and headed for more. There are good points being made by everyone chiming in and, frankly, I remain on the fence as to who will ultimately prove most prescient in their analysis.

By way of background, I should point out that I am a heavy user of Skype. I have a SkypeIn number that I use for my office so that my office phone number is with me wherever I happen to be working. This has become increasingly important as I've moved further and further away from my former deskbound work style and increasingly find myself working from home, hot spots along my way, and on the road. I also have used SkypeOut to handle a large percentage of my outbound telephony and, while it's been free recently a new pay-to-play plan in being implemented for 2007.

To make it all work, I also have employed Skype's call forwarding and voicemail services. If my computers are off, all incoming calls route to my cell phone. If I choose not take a rerouted call, it bounces to Skype voicemail. If I'm not able to take a voice call when at the computer, I can send it to voicemail as well and respond when time permits or bounce it IM chat (which I do quite often rather than putting the person I'm currently speaking with on hold. I think that's more respectful of the conversation I'm engaged in and yet avoids dropping me into voicemail tag with the other party.

Of course, rules and filters come into play when this happens. If the incoming call is from someone on my personal A-list like my wife or my kids or my boss, I'll take the call and risk the interruption with the other party I'm speaking to. But I always try to keep the interruption short because I know how it feels to have a conversation derailed.

While I was traveling in Europe this month, Skype was my lifeline to my family. My wife has an iMac with an integrated camera so we were able to video conference whenever time zones came into alignment. Both of my kids have Skype on their laptops so I'm usually able to get a quick IM chat in with them during the day from wherever I (and they) happen to be.

I've thought about using GrandCentral to route all of my numbers and services but they don't yet offer a local number in my area code so that's not completely practical for me just yet. Hopefully, they will add New Mexico t their list of supported locales soon as their service has a lot to offer and I've been intrigued with this company since seeing them present at DEMOFall in San Diego a few months back.

I also make light use of Google Talk and Gizmo Project (mostly on the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet) and look forward to investigating SightSpeed now that I've added a MacBook with integrated iSight camera into my PC mix.

OK - background established. On to the debate. Andy started things off at VoIP Watch by suggesting that Skype had subverted T-Mobile via the all-you-can-eat promotion Sony and T-Mobile offer with the Mylo personal communicator device. Essentially, he argues, Skype has leveraged the WiFi capabilities of the device to make internet telephony a completely free proposition for Mylo users at any Starbucks or other T-Mobile hotspot.

"... all of a sudden for the hotspot connected, no-need for a mobile phone crowd, you have the very first real salvo at the mobile phone industry, and in true subversive fashion, Skype used the industry’s own infrastructure, or at least T-Mobile’s for their very mission delivery vehicle"

On his Digital Common Sense blog, Ken turns that argument around and suggests that perhaps it's T-Mobile doing the subverting:

Skype’s in trouble. Big trouble. They’re proving they aren’t worth the money. Niklas is back at the helm because his feet are being held to the fire monetarily as much as for any other reason. <snip>

And T-Mobile? They walked into a deal openly and willingly. If they play their cards right, they might wind up buying Skype from Ebay for a song down the road.

Alec Saunders points out similarities to a similar service offered by Orange in France that he calls an "assault on the residential fixed line" by combining traditional cell phone service with WiFi access on a hybrid handset.

So, is Skype subverting T-Mobile, or… perhaps it’s T-Mobile getting the better end of the bargain.  Perhaps T-Mobile wants to duplicate Orange’s successes in Europe, but with Skype.  However you look at it, though, customers are getting the best deal.

And Mr. Blog chimes in by saying:

His point is right on in that this represents an interesting attack on the mobile phone industry with T-Mobile's assistance. The "hotspot as an adequate substitute for mobility" group is certainly a niche segment, but even so, it is a very real fear for mobile phone executives carriers.

What do you think? Have you used Skype or another VoIP client/network to supplant some of your POTS or cellular phone usage? If "free" WiFi and telephony software likely to achieve more than niche status and scale beyond the mobile geek set?