New app enables Skype buddy lists over cellphones

 EQO Communications is a company that enables Skype users to make and receive Skype VoIP calls on mobile phones. The Vancouver, B.

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EQO Communications is a company that enables Skype users to make and receive Skype VoIP calls on mobile phones. The Vancouver, B.C.-based company's free signature product, EQO Mobile Internet Phone Service for Skype, launched at the DEMO technology conference last week.

The VC-financed company has been working with Skype as part of its developer program with the goal of bringing Skype to the estimated 200 million-plus J2ME-enabled phone handsets currently deployed worldwide. Because the EQO Mobile Internet Phone Service for Skype is not a 3G-dependent solution, company officials maintain that it can perform well in the constrained cellular network conditions of today.  The utility routes incoming and outgoing calls to Skype buddies via the global wireless carrier voice network already in use today- rather than 3G networks that are still more of a goal than an on-the-ground (or in the air, rather have you) reality.

When a EQO Mobile Internet Phone Service for Skype user calls a member of their buddy list or another number thru the EQO software, or someone calls the member from a Skype connection,EQO uses SkypeOut to route the call to the user' phone over their regular wireless cellular service. This means that Skype calls can be made and received over handsets that aren't being used over high-speed wireless data networks such as EVDO.

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When I spoke with EQO Communications CEO Bill Tam yesterday, he made it clear that the product is cell-carrier friendly. That's an important concern for carriers, who would harbor fears of lost revenue should they enable a direct Skype service on their networks. But because users will access EQO's Skype Buddy application via existing cellular networks where they already have accounts, the envisioned business model is one where carriers that enable EQO Mobile Internet Phone Service for Skype will be able to make extra revenue by offering this utility in their suite of premium services.

Here are highlights of my interview with Bill Tam. I've edited his comments for continuity and clarity:

ZDNet: Your press materials note that your Mobile Internet Phone Service for Skype will have "particular resonance for young adults and teens." Could you share your reasons why you believe this demographic will be interested in this product?

Tam: We understand the notion that young people have extended their online identities to community sites like MySpace and LinkedIn, but the common thread is when they walk away from their desktop PCs, they are no longer connected to these communities on their mobile phones. The context here is that in addition to a voice conversation, the notion of allowing more forms of real-time communication is part of this community-driver notion.
ZDNet: Skype has an international user base, and in much of the world, the cell phone transmission infrastructure is more advanced than North America's. How have you taken these differences into account?
Tam: We find, especially outside the U.S., that Skype use has evolved to more of a community-centric world. We have taken a very pragmatic approach toward recognizing that by (developing) J2ME applications that can run on a couple of hundred million, basic, Java-enabled mobile phones, we can reach a broad footprint of this community. We took the lowest common denominator. Our application is designed with a 170kb or 180kb file size.
ZDNet: Especially in the U.S., cell carriers- indeed all of "big telecom" - have been exceptionally resolute about confronting what they perceive to be threats to their income stream from VoIP and other technologies. So if I am a carrier- what's my upside if I enable your service to travel over my mobile networks?
Tam: We set up the call to route over existing mobile voice network. This actually helps the carrier's voice traffic business model. The strategy around carriers is that by adding community features, they can add on a monthly fee or other usage fee on to these features within their premium plans. They would also have the additional downstream benefits of community-driven data consumption.
ZDNet: We've seen new technologies and applications fail to attain traction because of a perception they were difficult to install. What have you done with EQO Mobile Internet Phone Service for Skype to simplify download and installation?
Tam: Users download a small client application on their PC, specify a mobile phone number and then send the file to their mobile phone over the air. The process is very simple for the average user.
ZDNet: Skype itself is actively expanding its compatibility to new form factors- such as the NETGEAR Skype WiFi phone.  Do you envision EQO Mobile Internet Phone Service for Skype running on these devices as well?
Tam: We are pretty network agnostic, but for now, we have chosen to (enable) this over mobile networks. As to enabling this over Wi-Fi, there are hand-off impediments for now. They will work themselves out, but for the near term, we've decided that to reach the maximum number of handsets, we should go the Java-enabled phone (route).
ZDNet: This product is targeted at younger, community-oriented, social and recreational users. Yet that description could well apply to the original audiences for Instant Messaging. Yet IM has migrated up- virally, if you will - from chatty teens to corporate users. Do you, then, see a potential for Mobile Internet Phone Service for Skype in the enterprise?
Tam: Although we will skew younger (than the average Skype user), there is some inherent spillover of business use and into the business market. There is spillover, and there will be opportunities for communications centered around business colleagues, but we haven't yet designed enterprise-class features, and enterprise-class environments with the appropriate directories and security framework.
ZDNet: We know that the user base you envision also embraces technologies such as music players and gaming platforms. Increasingly, this hardware will offer connectivity options. Do you regard the devices I mentioned- and perhaps others as well - as current or near-term platform business opportunities?
Tam: Since we've built EQO Mobile Internet Phone Service for Skype around a Java application, we will be able to port (the Service) around other platforms, such as the next generation of set-top boxes or multiplayer game consoles.
ZDNet: What can we expect from EQO in the next several weeks and months?
Tam: We are continuing to improve our features, and you'll see a Mac version of our software in the next few weeks. There's a massive base of Java-enabled phones out there, and we are continuing to add more (compatible) handsets every day.  You'll be seeing additional communities announced- centered around the carrier.

 

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