Approximately one year ago I wrote an article entitled “The Future of Mobile – without phone numbers.” In my discussion I put forth the proposition that social networks would take over the fundamental connectivity for individuals and that phone numbers would be a network “IP address”. This article generated 100’s of emails and questions, some supportive, some not, but all thought provoking. It was clear that I had hit a nerve.
A major step towards my view of the future of mobile communications was taken by Verizon in the last week. Verizon Announced at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and later confirmed and launched at CTIA 2010, an integrated Skype calling service. This service enables users to click any Skype username, make a call, and not be charged for mobile minutes. This service even uses the mobile voice connectivity of Verizon for the wireless network of the call.
This is a major watershed event for the industry. A major carrier embracing voice as a data service, with calls completed outside of the carrier’s equivalent phone number – DNS.
In fact, this capability had been available by such applications as ISkoot. What is big news is that Verizon is openly promoting this service and not charging for mobile minutes. Another advantage of the Verizon version is that it is “always-on”. I received my first Skype call on my mobile yesterday. It just happened like any other mobile call. It was an important business call and all I could think about at the conclusion was – that was cool.
The use of social networks and non-phone number connection services implies that that contact DNS aggregation services will become even more important. My network contact list will be an amalgamation of my Facebook, Linkedin, Skype, Twitter, existing phone books, AOL IM list and likely several others. Aggregating my contact lists, storing them in the network cloud and presenting them to me on demand in a usable form is essential.
While at CTIA I was on a panel discussion with Mike Mulica, CEO of FusionOne. FusionOne is a leading example of such a network based contact/address book that spans social networks. They are certainly a company worth watching in the future, as they appear to be “on the right side of the technology curve”.
A question that remains is how does Verizon generate revenue by connecting calls for free? Simple answers include increased data subscriptions and greater subscriber growth via churn from other carriers. In the U.S. market, with mobile penetration approaching 90%, carriers can only increase subscribers by churning their competitor’s customers. Since the Skype app on iPhone is not as full featured and cannot be “always-on”, VZW has given leading edge users a reason to switch NOW.
In the future I would expect connections between Skype calling capability and other applications on Verizon, especially those provided through the Verizon’s own app store. I also expect that full mobile video calling and even video conferencing via Skype is no doubt on the roadmap.
This feature is only available to VZW smartphone subscribers , and that means a $29.99/mo data charge.
Regardless of the long term revenue sources, VZW has taken a clear leadership position in its market and now has the their competitors determining a catch-up strategy. Kudos to Verizon on this move.