Friday, November 2, 2007

3Skypephone doesn't do mobile VoIP

Many commentators didn't realize that the 3Skypephone doesn't really do mobile VoIP. Even my friends at Areamobile thought at first that a 3G data flatrate would be necessary to use it. It was quite easy to get this false impression as the press release only said:
29th October 2007 – Skype, the global Internet communications company and 3, the mobile operator, have launched a new affordable handset that lets you make free Skype to Skype calls and send free Skype instant messages from your mobile phone to other Skype users no matter where they are.

The 3 Skypephone is a fully-featured 3G Internet phone with Skype built-in. In addition to Skype calls the phone makes conventional calls and can be used to access 3’s broad range of other internet services.

3 customers using the 3 Skypephone will be able to make Skype calls and send instant messages on the move with the push of a button. This is the first time an operator has offered a mass market device which is tailor-made for free calling over the internet from a mobile. Now, all of Skype’s 246 million registered can be reached for free with the 3 Skypephone. ...

No more technical details were given. But the mobile Skype calls on the 3Skypephone are basically GSM phone calls, since it's the iSkoot service which is powering them. The day after the launch iSkoot could send out their own press release:

„CAMBRIDGE, MA – October 30, 2007 – iSkoot today announced that it has been selected by Skype to help power the 3 Skypephone – the first ever mass-market Skype-enabled mobile handset. ..."

This means that Skype calls from the 3Skypephone aren't 3G VoIP calls. They are GSM calls from the phone to the 3-iSkoot server, which then cannels them over the fixed line internet to Skype. The data connection is only used to show the presence of the Skype buddies.

The 3Skypephone doesnt really do any mobile VoIP, since it uses Skype only in the fixed line part of the call. The bad voice quality, that for instance Luca critizes, is not because of unreliable 3G coverage. Possible causes are the low sound quality of the GSM codecs or transcoding issues at a gateway level. Yet still iSkoot is a nifty solution to guarantee Skype coverage nearly everywhere.

That's also why their FAQ list says:

Q: Will it work on 2G, 2.5G& 3G networks?
A: Wherever you have coverage in the UK, Skype will work. If you can make a normal voice call, you will be able to make a Skype Call.

Now it's also obvious why the technology doesn't work outside of the 3 network: It relies on free on net calls from the 3Skypephone to the 3-iSkoot server. Luca said that "if you are roaming (in Italy in some places you are under Tim coverage and not 3) Skype calls don’t work".

The 3Skypephone is no new invention but just another marketing skin for iSkoot. Take that TIME magazine if you want to elect your next "Invention Of the Year". ;)


  1. depending on the technical definition of VOIP all cell phones have been operatoing in VOIP since the transition from analog to digital. the important issue is do the calls terminate/originate through the PSTN network not how they are transported across the airwaves.

  2. This service also does nothing different than Fring, which has been around on Nokia phones for quite some time now. The 3 Skype phone is just rebranding an idea that has been around for a while.

  3. i am hearing a lot about the lack of support for skype-out. i can find nothing on the net though that either confirms or denies whether skype-in works. in my opinion this is the single most interesting thing since it would make calls free or very inexpensive from a landline to a 3 skypephone. and we know that free or cheap(for the caller) inbound calls can be turned into free or cheap outbound with the help of callback. i suspect that if native support for skype-in is not there we will see a third party company come out with something.

  4. Here is the answer:
    Another limitation of the Skype service on the 3 phone is that it cannot accept calls to your SkypeIn number. ...

  5. the lack of skype-in is very disapointing and shows that 3 is embracing VOIP now beofre the consumers do it on there own through fring, etc. as a way to stay in control.

    i am wondering how smart the system is and if it is not as simple as setting up a second account with skype-in and than forwarding that line to the one on the 3 skypephone. a also wonding if TalQer would work. if not i am sure something could be worked out by combining a service like barablu with PBXes ro mysipswitch and a local DID.

  6. i do not see this taking off in large numbers as a mobile2PC type service or in network service. however if other operators follow the lead and integrate skype into handset this could become the preffered way of talking across networks since this is currently the most expensive type of call in so many cases. i would expect it to get the most traction if adopted by multiple operators in a single country; therefore get large numbers of people who talk lots of minutes to each other.

    this way it would be a true money saver. but i do not see people changing there habit of mobile to mobile in favor of mobile to PC calling to get this savings. especially since there is no skype-in support encouraging cheap calls from landlines to skype enabled cells.

  7. Markus, good post!
    Even though it is not VoIP, it is still a nice additional function for users.
    I don't think that 3 said was VoIP all they did was say that you can use the phone to call your skype friends for free. Remember in the short term, 3 will lose revenue on this!

  8. it is possible to do a workaround and get a landline number that rings your 3 skypephone.

    you need an account with the austaralian platform net2max. you can use a free account. using the webPABX function it is possible to route calls to skype, gtalk, msn, and yahoo. you can also register any SIP based free DID. you can acheive the routing of free UK, usa and number from many other countries to ring you skype as if it were a sype to skype call. unlike skypein this can be acheived for free and should work when skypein has been disabled.


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