3GSM Rings Changes For Mobile VoIP

While the 3GSM World Congress is bigger than ever, and there seems to be a very positive mood at the show, the number of announcements of new products has been rather subdued. The big handset manufacturers haven’t made a great deal of new announcements, with Sony Ericsson’s latest Walkman phone — a 3G device featuring 4 gigabytes of flash memory — seems to be the showpiece so far, with some companies, like Motorola, not announcing anything new of note. In a marked contrast to previous 3GSM events, Nokia was pretty restrained as well, announcing some fairly unremarkable midrange handsets that will undoubtedly sell well, but aren’t that exciting.

Well, that’s not totally true — one of them supports Unlicensed Mobile Access, the technology which lets users make GSM phone calls that use WiFi for transport rather than the cellular network. Yes, it’s just good old voice service that Nokia spent its time talking about, rather than some flashy new data service, but don’t be fooled, UMA is actually fairly interesting. Not only does it give mobile operators a chance to hit landline providers (again), but also gives them a way to compete with upstart VoIP providers. Speaking of which, Skype also announced that it’s working with Hutchison’s 3 carrier to roll out Skype for mobile devices. 3 Sweden is already selling data cards bundled with flat-rate service and some Skype branding (like other operators), but says it’s testing some sort of service on mobile phones. Neither Skype nor 3 offered up much more detail, so plenty of questions remain. In any case, it’s hard to see the service being the pipe dream of Skype fanboys, offering “free” calls on mobile. It’s hard to see 3 undermining its voice rates with ultra-cheap Skype rates, but given its history, aggressive nature and competitive position, it wouldn’t be a total surprise. What might make more sense would be to allow people to call other Skype users from their handset either at a reduced rate or as a flat-fee monthly service. In any case, operators are looking to VoIP, no matter how slowly.

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