Will operators be happy about Skype coming to Windows Phone?

16 Jan 2012

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So Skype is coming to Windows Phone. That’s the buzz at the moment, but wasn’t that inevitable? I mean seriously, it’s already available on iPhones, iPads, Android and Symbian devices, so it’s about time, right?

No one who uses Skype doubts how good it is as a communications tool. It’s very impressive and easy to use – and the miracle is free video-to-video calls with friends anywhere in the world. Heck, Skype is now an integral feature of Facebook.

Where Skype derives its revenues is through low-cost calls that users can buy in bulk for their mobiles and via broadband and, in recent months, it has begun muscling in the Wi-Fi business via airport offers and on iOS devices. Last year, it embarked on an effort to monetise through in-video advertising.

Microsoft paid an impressive US$8.5bn for Skype last year and the VoIP offering could very easily become a core part of Microsoft’s array of business services, such as Office 365/Linc, not to mention its Kinect motion sensing games device, which shipped 66m units last year.

So it’s a no-brainer that Skype will appear in Windows Phone devices.

Yes, but it depends how Microsoft plays it.

It could simply circumvent the ire of mobile operators faced with falling ARPU levels by releasing Skype as an app. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s already available as an iOS app and an Android app.

But Microsoft being Microsoft, it will probably insist it will be a core tile on its Windows Phone operating system and no doubt on the forthcoming Windows 8 desktop and tablet operating systems.

How Microsoft can help operators and vice versa

Operators are keen not to be seen as just another dumb pipe when it comes to data delivery – they want services that can help them monetise.

But operators can also decide the fate of a mobile device, whether it lives or dies. There are few operators in the world today not carrying Apple’s iPhone, but no other devices so far have that power.

For Skype to be seen as a core differentiator on its Windows Phone platform, this will mean Microsoft will need to iron out deals with operators in the same way it brought cloud computing services via Lync and Office 365 to the market last year to increase their relevancy.

Nokia’s new Lumia 900 Windows Phone got rave reviews at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show and if Microsoft and Nokia keep their nerve they could see the device become one of the outstanding smartphone launches of 2012. If …

Later next month, the Mobile World Congress will take place in Barcelona and both Microsoft and Nokia will have a presence there. Ex-Microsoft man and Nokia CEO Stephen Elop will be a keynote speaker at the event.

This will be the event at which operators, sensitive to the idea that they could wind up being just dumb pipes for the new media ambitions of large technology and internet players, will be quite curious and no doubt vocal in expressing their concerns.

Whatever cards Microsoft is holding with regard to Skype and Windows Phone may be revealed then. At the very least, Microsoft and Nokia need to assuage their concerns and indicate how their OS and device will improve operators’ fortunes, and not diminish them.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com