Given the names involved, many observers unsurprisingly expected whatever deal Skype and Verizon Wireless planned to announce at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to produce a major breakthrough for mobile VoIP. But when the announcement came, it turned out to be less than overwhelming. It involved an application that will allow mobile users to make Skype calls over the Verizon Wireless network using smart phones. The deal does little to alter Verizon's traditional cellular model. It doesn't transport VoIP over the 3G data network, and it won't be a major money-saver for users. The main change it brings is making Skype somewhat more convenient and accessible for Verizon customers.
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Verizon Wireless was for a long time the most conservative U.S. carrier. It did everything it could to keep even mildly disruptive applications and services off of its network and handsets. In the last year, though, it has claimed to be changing, saying it planned to make its network as open as possible. In October it said it would introduce two handsets running the Google-developed Android operating system, and with Google Voice installed. It subsequently announced a deal with Google to jointly develop and sell products, including such Android-based devices. Now it appears set to announce a deal with Skype.
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When fring and iCall announced recently that they were introducing iPhone 3G VoIP calling apps, it seemed a turning point for mobile VoIP. The apps, which recent changes in the Apple SDK made possible, made it clear that there's no turning back: VoIP over cellular data connections will soon become commonplace. What was less obvious was that, at this point, 3G VoIP won't have major impact, at least in the U.S. That's because under existing major mobile pricing plans, it won't produce significant savings for most users.
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More than eight years after signing up its first residential phone customer, Vonage is finally becoming a real VoIP company. Despite being the name most associated in the public mind with VoIP, Vonage actually has spent most of its time pretending to be a conventional phone company. It offered little that AT&T didn't, except a slightly lower price. Recently, however, it has belatedly begun adding other ways to use its service which take advantage of VoIP's unique capabilities. The latest additions are applications for iPhone and BlackBerry phones.
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Vonage's newly announced iPhone application is a great money maker even before its launch. Simply announcing that the application had won App Store approval sent the Internet telephony pioneer's stock up 36 percent. The problem is, no one knows what the app will do. The company is saying nothing about it "for competitive reasons." But whatever it ends up doing, it will likely be far from earthshaking.
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