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Verizon, ATT, Skype – is ATT setting itself up for another fall ?

February 16, 2010

A lot of people have been excited by the announcement by Verizon Wireless  will allow Skype .

One interesting thing to note is that this will not be “true” VoIP over 3G.  They will be using a variant of the technology where the mobile user’s call is sent over verizon’s wireless cellular network but then gets put on Skype’s VoIP network once it is inside verizon’s core network. The UK operator 3 already does something similar based on technology from the company iSkoot.  Basically the 3G data connection is only used for “always on” connectivity to enable Skype’s presence and IM capabilities. Note, this will work fine over even their lower speed data networks such as the areas where they only have 2G (aka 1xRTT) coverage.  Verizon will use their robust cellular voice radio network (at least until it hits the Skype box in their core) for the actual voice. So what Verizon is doing is very smart.  You use data for the key parts that make the service valuable (the “always on” presence information) and use their voice network where it will shine (the robust voice network). And as it will be on Verizon’s voice network, you can be sure that the coverage will be outstanding and the calls will be good quality.  So this is not really true VoIP, but a good way of reusing existing technology for maximum effect. (But it also means that there is still no solution for Voice over LTE – which is something Verizon needs to solve in the future. More on that in a future blog post.)

In comparison – ATT will also allow real VoIP over 3G with the Skype app for the iPhone.  But this is slightly different from Verizon’s play, in fact it is a potentially dangerous bet. Skype knows there are challenges there (as noted in various blogs)  so they are taking their time and trying to make it as solid as possible.  But in the end – when it does come out, I suspect it will not be able to get over the fact that VoIP over 3G (whether ATT or Verizon) will not cut it for now. That is just the reality of today’s network roll out.  So while Skype may try to optimize – it will not be able to over come the inherent limitations of current 3G networks, which were built in many cases to maximize throughput over delay, and also do not ensure smooth seamless handover between base stations.

Do you see a replay of today’s commercials about whose network is more robust ?

But there is one thing the Skype app for ATT will have that is way better than the Verizon offering – at least in theory. And that is the fact that the iPhone Skype application will support HD audio and also be usable over WiFi. In case you have not heard – HD audio is like HDTV except for it is for voice. The voice quality is much better than traditional cellular voice calls. Plus the fact that it can be used over WiFi is also potentially a boon for people traveling in foreign countries or within easy reach of WiFi.

Finally AFAIK there is no reason why ATT can not role out the same type of solution.

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