Bouygues Telecom announced last Thursday at MWC in Barcelona that they are partnering with Skype to allow all of their customers (including those of their B&You brand, whether they have a price plan or not) to use the VoIP service for free on their phones. Now this is interesting news to me because, when I was living in London, Three had a deal with Skype that offered the same thing… back in 2008! 5 years later, it seems France has finally caught up.
I actually think that this delay makes sense on a technical viewpoint: the quality of calls over 3G is just too poor on average, leaving you with occasional bad experiences at the worst of times — Murphy’s law. 4G, however, is expected to offer enough bandwidth for HD video calls, and hopefully peer-to-peer traffic won’t be blocked so that mobile WebRTC calls will be possible. Bouygues is expected to be one of the first operators to offer significant 4G coverage to its customers, thanks to its 1,800MHz network.
On a business viewpoint, the decision also makes a lot of sense. Talks between Bouygues and Skype started a few months ago, at approximately the same time as plans with unlimited voice and texts were becoming the norm. This means that voice is not what telco operators are going to make money on anymore, so it is becoming urgent for them to develop services around mobile internet, with the aim of converting customers to high-end data plans.
Bouygues’s competitor SFR is working on a similar VoIP deal with Tango, while Orange is developing a Skype competitor, Libon, through its Orange Vallée division, and it has a partnership with Facebook in the pipeline for video calling.
It’s worth noticing that Skype also rolled out a Facebook integration last year, and that since the Microsoft acquisition it has replaced MSN. The service now has 300 million unique users per month and accounts for 34% of international minutes, with a 60% yearly growth. A year ago, 20% of their users would connect from a mobile, whereas 40% do today.
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