Here's a special telecoms moment. Just as MicroNok is about to announce its new Windows Phones (rumoured to support Skype) an announcement comes that Microsoft is to enable direct carrier billing for its Skype subsidiary. This will essentially make mobile telcos resellers for what, to now, they have regarded as an arch-enemy. Will they do it? Is it part of the plan? By I.D. Scales.
Skype, which is celebrating its ninth birthday about now; has become responsible over that period for transporting one in three of the world's international calls and needs little introduction to TelecomTV viewers, is poised to roll out direct operator billing.
MACH, which claims the role of world leader in direct operator billing services (its gateway sits between operator billing systems and the merchant systems intending to use them) has announced that it's been selected as the first vendor for the direct operator billing process. The service is due to go live in October, but as expected there's the usual hush over how many telcos are champing at the bit to take Skype onto the bill.
"We can't disclose the details of specific operators because of confidentiality. The service will be launched in a number of countries in different phases, from October. We will be releasing additional details at this time,” MACH told TelecomTV in a statement.
Now, a traditional view of the telecom market dynamic might hold that such a move by a mobile carrier (ie to put Skype on the bill) is akin to a bunch of turkeys not only voting for Christmas, but setting up a Christmas club to ensure its customers have enough money to purchase some dead birds when the bloody moment comes.
Another (perhaps just as valid contrary) view holds that by offering or allowing Skype, telcos are increasing the value of their services for users.
As the perceived customer value shifts from discrete 'services' (voice, texts etc) to data access, and is reflected in the way the service is charged (with voice and text for free and data charged in tiers) then having Skype available increases that value. That's the theory and some apparently successful moves, by 3 in the UK for instance with its Skype phone, have already played out.
Also to be borne in mind is the fact that Skype calls may work best (or be encouraged to travel) across WiFi connections rather than cellular. As these calls are not touching the telco network the thought might be: why not generate some shared revenue by billing for them?
But the fact remains that by offering billing services for Skype, mobile telcos are essentially becoming Skype resellers for a service that - in very many ways - competes with their own current (voice and International voice and text) and perhaps future (video calling services).
Furthermore, as both companies acknowledge, by enabling mobile customers an easy billing option, the mobile telco will be easing the use of a competitive service and, by offering it on the bill, providing a stamp of legitimacy, if not direct approval. It seems to me like a tough call .
Will such a billing facility be taken up with alacrity by mobile telcos? Is Skype on the cusp of being welcomed in from the cold by telocos who, at least up until recently, regarded it as close to the devil itself?
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