This is going to sound strange and quite likely improbable, but I have information that may indicate that Skype could be considering dropping the equivalent of a nuclear bomb on the VoIP world.
I am referring to free outbound calling anywhere in the world. Not only between Skype users, but from Skype users to any phone, anywhere.
My suspicions that this could be in the offing are raised by a pending Skype U.S. trademark application entitled "The Whole World Can Talk For Free."
The trademark application was posted on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website June 22, which was a month ago back from today.
The reason this trademark is so low profile is that - consistent with trademark law- it has yet to be "published for opposition." That date will fall on August 1. If there are those who object to this trademark, that will be when voices of objection will be registered.
Yes, of course I know Skype has been using this phrase in their marketing for a year now, and it appears on their home page. But why go to the point of registering it.. now? Is this basically a butt-cover to forestall similar phraseology from competitors who Skype fears may underprice them, or are there larger forces at work?
I do realize I could be making too much of this. "The Whole World Can Talk For Free" trademark could simply be a formalization of a promotional tag-line to promote downloading of the Skype softphone for free Skype user-to-user talk. Just like you can do today. Or this could just be a place-holder, applied for in the belief that at some point, all outbound calls will be free- and trademarked as a hedge against any other provider using this, or a similar named slogan.
But then again, perhaps not. Let me tell you why.
I envision a scenario in which Skype provides totally free outbound calling to those users who sign on for the revenue-generating SkypeIn service. Free world calling could, then be an incentive that would drive registration for Skype's paid services.
This will, I believe, be instituted with a monthly free-calling maximum allotment of minutes. 500 minutes a month would be about right. This would act as a brake against wildly enthusiastic use. The maximum minutes control would also be fungible, and be subject to adjustments that could be made for promotional purposes.
New users who sign up for free Skype anywhere in the "whole world" would, then, only be eligible for this if they buy a SkypeIn number. Makes sense- that way all their non-Skype-using friends they start calling will want a number to call them back.
I know you are going to ask me, well, then, what about the termination fees that Skype pays telcos all over the world? If these calls are free, than how are these termination fees going to be covered?
Well, maybe it doesn't matter, because Skype-owner eBay feels they need to do something to kick Skype into high gear, and they are committed enough to such a grand gesture strategy such as I have described that they will subsidize the termination fees until extra revenue from SkypeIn, video calling and other added paid services comes in and starts ROI'ing this strategy.
And I say again: there will be a monthly free calling minutes allotment. Not only would this be as a brake against an explosion of calling minutes that would throw the termination free recoupment arithmetic out of wack. Skype knows that if they did indeed allow free PC-to-PSTN calling anywhere, they would be widely derided if they yank such privileges back.
Beyond just the return on investment is the crippling blow that free world callout would deal to the rapidly growing IM-based calling rivals nipping at Skype's heels. Gizmo and Yahoo! Messenger With Voice are two of these. I would be worried if I were at either of those shops.
And the ATA providers such as Vonage, Packet 8, SunRocket? They would have to figure out additional ways to compete with such a juggernaut.