Skype in a Struggle to Be Heard on Mobile Phones
By KEVIN J. O'BRIEN The New York Times February 18, 2010
BARCELONA, Spain - Josh Silverman, the chief executive of Skype, the voice-over-Internet phone service, could tick off the names of mobile phone operators that block his company's service.
But for Mr. Silverman, a 41-year-old Michigan native, it is quicker to name those that allow it, no strings attached.
"The two operators that have really embraced us are 3 in Europe and Verizon Wireless in the United States," Mr. Silverman said Wednesday at the Mobile World Congress, the industry's annual convention, in Barcelona. "But we are making progress, and operators are beginning to change their attitudes."
In a world where network neutrality has become a rallying cry for advocates of an unfettered Internet, Skype, the pioneer in low-cost and even free online calls, has become a prime example of the limits of wireless freedom.
In the United States, Skype is blocked on mobile networks, and the service is available only on the Apple iPhone over Wi-Fi. AT&T, the exclusive American carrier for the iPhone, has said that it would allow Skype and voice-over-Internet-protocol services to operate on its 3G network, but Skype has not made an application available.
In Europe, Skype is carried by the company 3 in Britain, Ireland, Austria, Denmark, Italy and Sweden. But many other cellular operators still block its calls, prohibit their customers from downloading Skype's software or outlaw the use of VoIP service in standard sales contracts.
Some carriers are imposing fees to undermine Skype's attraction. In Germany, customers of T-Mobile can place calls using Skype, but only if they pay an extra 10 euros, or $13.60, a month. German customers of the Vodafone Group can use the service for an extra 5 euros a month.
However, the barriers to Skype and similar Internet calling services, like Google Voice, are coming under increasing scrutiny as the Internet goes mobile. By 2013, the number of Internet-ready mobile phones will surpass the number of computers in the world for the first time, according to Gartner, a research firm.