Are Carriers Gunning for Skype?
The group could include the likes of AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), and NTT Communications Corp. (NYSE: NTT) -- if the service really comes into existence.
See, it's just a theory right now, one put forth by ThinkEquity LLC analyst Anton Wahlman in a research note this morning. His report admits that the news doesn't come from any carrier source. But Wahlman says the service is real and could launch in 2009.
"We are confident that this is actually happening,” he tells Light Reading. “Our theories have a mysterious way of turning out to be more accurate than not."
Why would carriers bother? “We believe that the motivation to do this would be to keep subscribers from completely disappearing,” Wahlman writes in the report.
In other words, carriers need a way to win back those customers that are leaving, without piling up heavy marketing costs.
The hook for subscribers would be that in order to use the service, they would have to buy an access service -- DSL, fiber, or even a cellular plan -- from one of the member carriers.
The benefit for the carrier is that while it could still lose traditional voice service revenue from the customer, it would have a tie to that customer through which it could market additional services such as IPTV or 3G mobile.
Like Skype, this theoretical service would be software-based, using an interface "that each operator could skin and brand in any way they like,” Wahlman says. At the core of this software would be a unified code so that any updates or bug fixes could automatically be applied to all customers using the service on all carriers.
The software could eventually be applied to wireless devices, but that is something unlikely to happen until later on.
“The market isn’t ready yet,” Wahlman says. “If you want to do that, you need an unlimited data plan.”
Besides, Wahlman says that since the wireless sector is still healthy and growing, there isn’t a need to address this in wireless just yet. “They’ll first push this to solve their wireline issues. I don’t think they’re in a hurry to go down the wireless path just yet.”
If it's real, this Skype-like service could face some significant challenges before becoming available. For one thing, it might be illegal. “It’s called a cartel,” says Frank Dzubeck of Communications Network Architects. “The way it's phrased, it could never happen.”
The way it could happen according to Dzubeck is by creating a standard approved by a standards body such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) into which every carrier could buy. This would be similar to what Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) did with Android.
“A standard that everyone adheres to and subscribers to -- that is legal. The same thing happens with 802.11. That is the way it’s done in the communications world. You take the technology to a standards body and then everyone agrees to it, and then Skype’s knees are cut off,” says Dzubeck.
Dzubeck also points out that this is not the first time an idea like this has been kicked around. “Every single time, they run into the same problem over which body are they going to take it to,” he says. “But now there’s also the cellphone problem. There’s nothing that says you can’t run Skype on a cellphone, and all handsets are going to eventually have real Web browsers.”
In the meantime, though, the idea of this happening is still nothing more than a theory. AT&T, one of the main U.S. carriers Wahlman references as being part of this consortium, would not immediately respond to requests for comment on the report.
— Raymond McConville, Reporter, Light Reading