The Real Reason Skype's App For Verizon Phones Won't Work On WiFi

from the questions-answered dept

Back in March, Derek Kerton noted in a post here on Techdirt some peculiarities popping up around Skype’s plans for mobile devices. In particular, he pointed out how Skype announced a version of its client for several smartphones on the Verizon network, but the app looked crippled because it couldn’t function over WiFi and routed Skype calls over a standard voice connection. When the app became available, I downloaded it for my Android device on Verizon, and I too, noticed that it forced me to shut off the WiFi connection on my device. This didn’t make much sense to me: I’m already paying for a flat-rate data plan, so it’s not as if this would force me to spend more money. In addition, given the way that mobile operators have been saying their networks are overwhelmed by data traffic, why would they force me to use the mobile network when I could offload the Skype traffic to a WiFi connection? Then, when I placed a Skype call through the app and saw that it was actually routed through a voice call to an access number, I was confused even more.

As Derek noted, the Skype app for Verizon followed a series of several other moves that call into question Skype’s actual commitment to open networks, and that combined with US operators’ historical positions against openness, it was natural to assume that the app shut off WiFi on Android devices because of some nefarious purpose. But Verizon has explained itself, saying the app behaves this way because of a combination of technology and legality. In short, Verizon lawyers felt like voice calls made through Skype needed to be treated like standard voice calls from a legal perspective. This means conforming to 911 regulations, as well as the CALEA act, which opens networks to wiretapping by law enforcement. Verizon contends that CALEA dictates that call-signaling info travel over its data network, rather than unknown (and possibly unsecure) WiFi. This is where the technology comes in: apparently it’s impossible for the Skype app on Android to choose to use the Verizon data network if the device is connected to WiFi. So therefore it has to completely shut off the WiFi connection to be sure its data travels over the mobile network. On BlackBerry devices, this isn’t the case, so the app doesn’t force users to shut off their WiFi.

Given mobile operators’ past penchant for closing off their networks, it’s forgivable that somebody would assume one had nefarious purposes for blocking WiFi access to Skype. That may not be the case in this narrow instance — but many of Derek’s other questions about Skype’s much-touted commitment to openness remain unanswered.

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Comments on “The Real Reason Skype's App For Verizon Phones Won't Work On WiFi”

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Michael (profile) says:

Yeah, and things will just be super-good when you use an alternative communication model based around pre-shared one time pads (lots of data) or one time keys with say AES256 on a nicely minimal redundancy audio codec.

Even if you do have a targeted list of subjects to monitor the only information that you are assured are the two endpoints of that particular connection.

The regulation gains little of substantial value; aside from what stupid criminals provide. Anyone I should actually be worried about will already be using more advanced methods.

Jamie says:

Re: Re:

Well, I’m going to give the telecom lawyers the benefit of the doubt, assume they know more about CALEA than I, and assume they’re right.

(OTOH, I can certainly see reasons why this might be a convenient answer, but but that aside.)

What that means is that Skype is even more useless to me than it might have been, and is nothing but a branded alternate dialer with a narrow-use social network behind it. Whee.

I’ll just use other tools.

(Still assuming they’re correct about CALEA, this is reason #427 it needs serious revision – if you’re a subject of interest such that the requirements for CALEA are in play, they already have your subscriber identity, can easily get your realtime location, and can activate the mic – the only thing missing is a remote detonation trigger for the battery. Funneling everything through a choke point is just a convenience.)

rec9140 (user link) says:

Spin it....

Until proven otherwise I will lay this issue squarely at who is the prime instigator. VERIZON.

I have and LOVE VZW for their coverage, coverage, coverage, and would never touch another network.

I don’t use phones trying to be computers, I have as basic a phone as you can still get, and will always have that. Its a phone, period.

This was and is clearly VZW choice to force the software to do this in an effort to force the calls on to their network and reap the $$$… Otherwise calls would be going out via skype on FREE routes… CAN’T HAVE THAT! ! !

Prove me wrong fine, but any one with even half a brain knows the REAL STORY on this….

Anonymous Coward says:

“skype is skirting many legal issues from 911 to call traceablity and they have been lucky so far not to face legal issues.”

That is assuming that Skype has not given the keys to the appropriate authorities. Don’t count on that one.

I believe that most Verizon data users have their unlimited plan, so it would make no sense for Verizon to block WiFi Skype, as it would actually help Verizon keep their bandwidth down. I run numerous programs on my smartphone that allows me to send IM’s through the data connection instead of text messages and Verizon doesn’t block those.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:


I’ve heard multiple reasons from Verizon on why the Skype calls need to travel over the normal cellular voice channel.

The most compelling was “We want to be able to assure a good quality voice call, and we’ve put $billions into our voice networks to ensure that, but our data network was not optimized for that purpose.” I actually like this reason, because it’s true, and it is customer-focused.

This new E911/CALEA explanation seems to be arriving a little late. And even if true, as a customer, I’m not really that interested in forced compliance. Orwellian reference.

I suppose it’s possible that since VZW is offering the Skype, they need to be in full compliance with law enforcement. However, if customers install Skype themselves, then the carriers have no liability for E911 or CALEA. So…given the choice, what customer would not prefer the self-installed option? Too bad Skype is pulling those off the market.

BTW, to reiterate my point, I’m most frustrated by Skype. Verizon is fairly consistent in their actions to limit customer devices based on Verizon priorities. Their choices, though not my preference, are to be expected. Skype, however, is going against its stated philosophy – an ‘open’ philosophy they stood up in DC and articulated as recently as September last year – by offering a closed, exclusive client deal in the US.

trench0r (profile) says:

just ordered my droid incredible

I kind of agree that verizon shouldn’t be responsible for data that travels through hardware that *I OWN* using bandwidth *I PAID FOR* but so much for my entitlement issues.. I guess I don’t own the phone I just paid $550 bucks for! (before discounts and rebates for locking me into their service for *another* two years)

as someone commented earlier, at least they have the best coverage coverage coverage… it may not matter to most urbanites but people who roam the countryside (or for some people I know who are cross country drivers) there really is no better! (only sprint seemed to come close)

xplmr says:

It’s a bit long winded but it is what I have learned about the Verizon/Skype team up.

I am a Verizon Customer. I purchased an Omnia 2 on December 2nd 2009. It was the first day that phone was for sale. Not long after that I downloaded Skype mobile for Windows Mobile 6.5 Operating System. It worked great. At one point though, I was having phone memory issues and I deleted all of my apps that I had added, only to find it was my temp folders size and my deleted emails (that were still sitting in the deleted items folder) slowing down my Omnia 2. When I went to reinstall Skype Mobile, it had been pulled from Skype Mobile’s download page for Windows Mobile Devices. Skype stated it was because they wanted to provide the best service, yada, yada. Some weird BS reasoning I had not yet understood. I searched the web until I found an old archived copy of the Skype Mobile version I had previously and I reinstalled it. It worked great again. Skype said if you already had a previous version it would continue to function.

What I disliked about Skype Mobile was the inability to use the phone in any mode other than speakerphone. I guess I could have tried headphones with a microphone, but I didn’t. Since Skype Mobile doesn’t have echo cancelling software like in the personal computer versions, the party’s I would speak to would say they could hear themselves echoing back loudly. Now remember, this is the version that worked on wifi or your data plan. It did not use phone minutes. But you could only call computers or others with Skype Mobile on their devices. To call landlines or cell numbers you needed the $2.95 per month Skype unlimited North American Plan (US and Canada).Then as I thought about it, I was confused why I was hearing Verizon and Skype were teaming up and recommending Skype Mobile on your Verizon mobile device. Why would Verizon want you to be able to use the phone as a Voice Over IP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) for only the Skype unlimited fee of $2.95 per month, when it would cost me around 10+ times that for Verizon’s unlimited airtime minutes package. Come to find out, this announcement was not the Skype Mobile we once new. More on that below.

What I did like about Skype Mobile was finally, I could enjoy my mobile device on Verizon’s CDMA network like a GSM handset. I could talk on the phone (using Skype Mobile) without pausing my data connection for the duration of my call. I could continue to receive emails or continue sending my GPS location for programs like Google Latitude or Glympse because Verizon’s CDMA Network does not currently send/receive simultaneous Voice and Data. That is no longer the case.

Now that I have left my Omnia 2 (mostly due to WM6.5) for the new HTC Incredible, I see what my wife was talking about with her Droid having to shut off the wifi to run the” teamed up” Skype Mobile. My Incredible had given me the same warning. I didn’t understand why. Well, as it turns out, it is because Verizon doesn’t want you using Skype Mobile to skirt around your limited minutes (if you do not currently pay Verizon for an unlimited minutes plan). They have taken away the Skype internet phone experience, and left you with a “free” (included in your $29.99 data plan free) voice to computer service. So you can call peoples computers, or you can call other Verizon cell phones with Skype Mobile running on them, that are free to call from Verizon phones anyway! And to add to it, I can only call computers using my data plan but never using wifi. So if I am sitting at home or at a friend’s house with wifi, I cannot leave Skype Mobile running while surfing the web on my device because it will not allow the wifi and Skype Mobile to be simultaneously enabled. Also, a Skype call to a US number will automatically use your Verizon minutes, rendering a paid Skype account useless on the mobile devices of Verizon. This is a FAIL on the teaming up of these two reputable companies in my book.

peawormsworth (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You should read what ‘xplmr’ said above. This is the correct interpretation. This is a business decision not a legal issue. The writer of this article was fed Verizon corporate BS and he totally ate it.

Ask them to site which law they are referring to. Ask for this statement in writing. Ask if for a name from Verizon that you can associate with their quote. In the end, if you are persistant, you will get a call from a Verizon corporate manager asking why you want to know the reasoning. Then he will admit that it is a business decision (which they have a right to make) and it is not a legal requirement.

The cable company will tell you the same thing when you ask for TV without local ABC, NBC, CBS affiliate stations. They (call support staff) will tell you that the government (FCC) mandates it. But this is incorrect information passed onto them by a manager who knows better. Why give you just HBO when they can force you to also buy access to other stations you don’t need (ie: you have an antenna port on your TV right?)

matt says:

Try using your web browser to go to It works great as does every web page. Here is the rub ! TRY TO SIGN INTO SKYPE. Verizon has BLOCKED ACCESS to your sign in page. It will give you some bogus data message.
Verizon will lose my $ in the long run. Their APP also does NOT WORK OUT OF THE COUNTRY. I would have gladly paid the $70 a month for International Data Plan and used Skype no questions asked Im happy. But now I am dumping Verizons Data plan completly and going for a computer to use while International. I also believe the iPhone APP works perfect while over seas. Bad call by Verizon

peawormsworth (profile) says:

This makes it sound like Verizon is forcing skype through the voice plan in order to meet gov. regulations. But I will confirm that what they are saying is BS. They use the government as an excuse to continue a business practice that just happens to make them more money.

This is exactly what Verizon is doing. They are lying to the public about their legal obligations in order to continue this charade: “the wireless phone companies provide the services that you use on your phone… without adding their effort, the new service would not be available” This is BS and the public still buys it as fact.
In reality… phone companies only provide network access to the internet (data plan). The only other thing they can do is “break” that service by limiting what is and is not allowed to travel across the data plan you paid for. Knowing this… each phone company has intentionally “broken” their network and instead only allows limited service to the commonly used protocols currently used by their customers. This guarantees that all new services falling outside this will require them to add it. Thus further enforcing the misconception that they somehow have something to do with the service (like Skype)… but in reality they are simple slowly fixing new services that they had previously broken already.
But this is even worse… instead of allowing the service through their limited data access plan.. They pidgeon holded it through to guarantee they will extract additional money from customers who already paid for everything they need to get free VOIP through Skype.
When will the public revolt and say “just give me data. Ignore my content. If I exceed the bandwidth alloted in my contract, you can cut me off. Otherwise f**k off!”

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