Skype has launched a new iPhone version, enabling calls over the 3G data network, but come 2011 users will be expected to start paying for those calls too.
Skype-to-Skype calls over Wi-Fi will remain free, along with Skype over the fixed internet, but if you're expecting free VoIP over your 3G connection (without a premium charge) then you'll have to think again (or just download a copy of Fring or similar).
Skype's pricing remains to be seen: Skype hasn't responded to our request for more information and the details won't emerge until the end of the year, but a monthly subscription split with the network operator seems the most likely model for the application that Steve Jobs himself said wouldn't be welcome on the iPhone.
Voice is still the cash cow for the operators, by a considerable margin. Data traffic might clog up their networks, but voice is what pays for everything and mobile VoIP threatens that revenue. So as long as Apple was beholden to the operators such applications remained verboten on the iPhone at least.
Since earlier this year Fring has provided an iPhone application enabling free VoIP calls over the 3G network, now enhanced to enable video too. Fring reckons it can make the system pay through embedded advertising, but Skype is looking for a more direct revenue stream for its 3G service.
Given the free alternatives it's hard to imagine many people will sign up to pay for Skype, but one shouldn't underestimate the power of the Skype brand.
In the UK 3 already offers free Skype calling in some of its tariffs* which has proved very popular, so Skype is no doubt now talking to the rest of the mobile operators about arranging similar deals with a revenue share - though now it has a deadline by which any such arrangement must be fixed.
Interestingly 3's service is not entirely VoIP: the mobile part is routed over the normal voice network, but thanks to clever handset integration that makes no difference to the user. ®
* interestingly 3's service is not entirely VoIP: the mobile part is routed over the normal voice network, but thanks to clever handset integration that makes no difference to the user