Microsoft pushing operators to open up Skype access in UK

As the focus of mobile usage moves further from minutes and text bundles, towards megabytes of data, mobile network operators are unsurprisingly concerned at this shift, and the potential loss of revenue that it represents to them. Frustrated by the ongoing restrictions imposed upon its Skype service in the UK, Microsoft intends to lean more heavily on those networks that routinely block Skype access.

Skype complained to the UK communications regulator, Ofcom, last year about this state of affairs. In a report last week, Ofcom openly stated that such restrictions stifle innovation, indicating that action may be taken against operators that fail to properly open their networks to VoIP traffic.

When voice calls and text messages become nothing more than raw data sent across a network - as is the case with services such as Skype - operators lose the ability to charge higher (and arguably absurd) rates for them any longer.

When America’s AT&T network increased the cost for sending an SMS text message from $0.15 to $0.20 in March 2008, numerous articles cropped up – including a widely referenced example by Sam Garfield – that exposed the madness of SMS pricing. In his calculations, Garfield noted that the cost of sending the bits of data that form a text message over AT&T was as much as 61 MILLION times more than sending data over a home broadband connection. This is all the more extraordinary when you consider that the true cost to the network for sending an SMS is almost negligible, as noted by The New York Times. Little wonder then that operators are desperate to hold on to the ‘old’ way of doing things.

While major US operators don’t block Skype access, many European ones do, including the UK’s Everything Everywhere (Orange and T-Mobile) and Vodafone; the latter charges up to £15 ($23) per month for the freedom to use VoIP services on mobile contracts. While some networks, such as Telefónica O2 and 3 from Hutchison Whompoa, don’t discriminate against such traffic, Microsoft is keen to press those operators that are dragging their feet.

Skype’s Jean-Jacques Sahel told Bloomberg Businessweek that Ofcom’s support in this matter is “helpful and should allow us to continue the dialog [with operators]. We need the few that lag behind to catch up.”

Microsoft is hoping to gain “some sort of commitment” from operators to open up their networks, but that will be easier said than done. Given how accustomed the carriers have become to milking their customers with such grossly inflated pricing, they won’t be eager to roll out the red carpet to new cheaper competitors.

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13 Comments

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People should just move to a sensible operator like 3. I'm on 3 with my iPhone 4S and I have unmetered data with tethering and no fair usage policy. Couldn't be more happy with it, I consistently get 1-2mbps with low signal and around 7mbps with full signal in central London.

KSean said,
People should just move to a sensible operator like 3. I'm on 3 with my iPhone 4S and I have unmetered data with tethering and no fair usage policy. Couldn't be more happy with it, I consistently get 1-2mbps with low signal and around 7mbps with full signal in central London.

Yeh but how much is that a month sim-only? On giffgaff PAYG it's £10 for all of that (excluding tethering).

3 actually go a step further (and have for many years). They provide their own Skype client which sets up a voice call to some 3 endpoint. The endpoint then communicates with Skype. This works really well, as voice packets are usually more reliable over a mobile network.

Cleaver said,
3 actually go a step further (and have for many years). They provide their own Skype client which sets up a voice call to some 3 endpoint. The endpoint then communicates with Skype. This works really well, as voice packets are usually more reliable over a mobile network.

and with 3 it doesn't use your network data usage either, Skype is free over 3G on 3.

Good points there from both of you.

I currently use 3 for my mobile broadband, and its network coverage is surprisingly good these days (3 is still trying to shake off a reputation in the UK for being the network that you can never get any signal on - in its early days, that was certainly true). They've generally impressed me though, and I'll be seriously considering switching to them for my phone contract when it comes up for renewal.

Three and GiffGaff need to birth a lovechild named Giffthree - 3's awesome 3g speeds and GG's great pricing. Currently use 3 and love the free Skype and ok mb allowance, but GG has unlimited mobile data - though you cannot tether, which sucks. Cellular/analogue activity is dead. Data/digital is the future, despite its own problems - the longer networks hold on to this outdated system the harder they will fall. Look at Kodak in the camera business. They've bought this on themselves with absurd sms costs.

I'm on o2, but I only really use Skype when I'm at home with my home internet.

When the past year has seen restrictions put on data allowance with most operators, this won't change for at least a year.

Oh, and GiffGaff aren't that great. In my research, Tesco came up best value overall. I do't really understand how the "goody bags" work with them and can't be bothered to find out exactly what I am getting and how long for.

oufc_gav said,

It uses the O2 network - so presumably takees the O2 network controls...

In fact, it's not just an MVNO that uses the O2 network; it's actually part of the Telefónica O2 group, so I'd agree that its network management is almost certainly identical to that of O2 'proper'.

gcaw said,

In fact, it's not just an MVNO that uses the O2 network; it's actually part of the Telefónica O2 group, so I'd agree that its network management is almost certainly identical to that of O2 'proper'.

Incorrect, voip and other protocals are allowed over giffgaff's 3G data.

thealexweb said,

Incorrect, voip and other protocals are allowed over giffgaff's 3G data.

And the article clearly states that 3 UK & O2 allow access to Skype, which would naturally mean Giffgaff do too.

As a O2 customer, i can confirm that it works.

O2 ftw!