VoIP Over Mobile?

Jacob Guedalia is betting against conventional wisdom. The conventional wisdom in question is that mobile carriers would never back a scheme that promotes peer-to-peer calling using Internet based instant messaging/VoIP connections.

Jacob is CEO and Chairman of Cambridge, Mass.-based iSkoot Inc., which is currently doing precisely that: selling the idea of P2P-over-cellular to mobile phone providers—as well as to end users.

Here’s how he sees the equation: Internet-based P2P calling has actually increased the total phone traffic, worldwide, by billions of minutes, of which the mobile providers are getting exactly zero. (Not 100 percent true, by the way, but close enough to true.)

Geudalia contends there’s no evidence that P2P calling is actually cutting into cellphone revenues—P2P traffic seems to be incremental—so getting even a piece of revenues generated around P2P puts mobile carriers ahead of the game.

This reasoning seems to have convinced Cingular Wireless, whose subscribers can now use the iSkoot Mobile Network to place outgoing Skype calls after downloading and installing a small (free) piece of client software from the iSkoot website.

The thin Java client connects with the gateway element of the iSkoot network, which bridges calls to the Skype network on the Internet, and beams the user’s buddy list and presence info back to the cellphone display. (Google Talk, and other open-source IM/voice services are promised for the future.)

Speaking of phones, the list of recommended phones consists of selected Series 60 phones from Nokia with full color displays. (iSkoot plans to support Motorola RAZR, Treo 650, and Series 40 Nokia phones “soon.”) A GPRS or EDGE data account is also a requirement.

As mentioned, P2P calling over iSkoot is outbound only, for the present—though inbound calling via Skype call forwarding is in the works. SkypeOut calls to the PSTN use SkypeOut minutes, as with PC-based calling. (The iSkoot interface displays your SkypeOut balance.) And, of course, all iSkoot calling uses mobile air time minutes.

So, what are the odds that P2P phone fans will be lining up to pay cellphone charges to make ‘free’ calls? “It’s a lifestyle thing,” Guedalia told VoIPplanet. “There are 75 million Skype users, and they’ve developed a lifestyle where they call people from their buddy lists. We’re giving them the ability to do something they love to do from their PC, but with the freedom of their mobile,” he continued. ” Now you can use Skype without having a PC at all.”

Guedalia spoke to VoIPplanet from the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona, where he was busy negotiating with other mobile carriers—”mostly multinational carriers,” he pointed out. “There seems to be more interest abroad than in North America,” he reported. “If you look at the Skype phenomenon, it’s more pervasive abroad.”

As to costs, iSkoot is working with carriers to provide an unlimited service at a flat rate, similar to the way that local residential PSTN service used to work for most American households.

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