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Optical/IP

Cut-Rate Convergence

4:55 PM -- Can VOIP upstart Skype Ltd. kickstart mobile convergence? Hard to say for sure yet, but it definitely looks as if the firm is trying to build an environment that will enable users to go mobile whether they are on a laptop, a handheld, or a 3G phone.

Consider some of the recent deals the company has struck. Niklas Zennstrom and his merry band have their fingers in a lot of pies.

Skype is working with operator Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. (Hong Kong: 0013; Pink Sheets: HUWHY) to run the service over 3G mobile phones. Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) is tipped to supply the phones.

Cambridge, Mass.-based iSkoot has already whipped up mobile gateway software that allows Cingular Wireless users to access Skype on their PCs via their phones. (See iSkoot Connects With Skype.) At the other end of the -- ahem -- spectrum, Skype has pumped an undisclosed amount of cash into controversial Spanish hotspot venture Fon , a startup that hopes to create a global network of public access hotspots. (See FON Raises $21.7M.)

On the handheld side, Skype has updated its software so that it will run over Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)'s Pocket PC 2.0 operating system. (See Skype Updates Pocket PC.)

So what does it all mean? Well, it just might be the quick and dirty route to fixed/mobile convergence, with Skype quickly providing a multitude of ways to access its service, while vendors that have talked up FMC for an age are still worrying about boring stuff like security and quality-of-service.

The basic selling points being that the service is free, good enough to get the job done, and will soon be available over lots of different computing platforms.

This won't, of course, be an appealing proposition for more sniffy enterprise customers, but there are a number of businesses that have already embraced Skype. (See Skype's Mobile Appeal.)

And we already know that consumers love Skype.

It will be interesting to see how many other cellular carriers follow Hutchison's lead and welcome the new kid on the convergence block onto their network. You can bet there were some interesting conversations about this topic at the 3GSM cellular show in Barcelona this week.

Skype is a traffic driver, but also reduces an operator to what they least want to be: A dumb, fat pipe.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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