updated 02:50 pm EDT, Wed March 21, 2007
Skype Coming to Cellphones
Skype has discovered a relatively untapped ruling that could force cellphone manufacturers and carriers to open up their devices to voice over IP and other software, according to a report from yesterday's Von Show. A petition made by the software developer to the FCC points to a 1968 ruling which allowed a radio device named the Carterfone to link a two-way radio to the phone network. The legal decision set a precedent which ultimately allowed dial-up Internet access and fax machines to be used on phone networks regardless of the exact owner.
No company has so far taken advantage of this freedom for services on cellphones, Skype said, arguing that the habit of Verizon and other US carriers locking out third-party sofwtware was no different than blocking specific TV models from watching a given program.
Skype regulatory director Chris Libertelli specifically accused the phone industry of attempting to generate artificial revenue by steering subscribers towards the networks' own paid services rather than allowing less expensive software to accomplish the same feat.
The carriers have a business model "that provides them the incentive to harm application level providers like Skype," he said.
Verizon has already responded to the claim, contending that the revenue from paying for its own services was reinvested in the network itself. The popularity of the networks as they were also showed that customers were happy, it claimed.
If the FCC petition is successful, however, the Carterfone precedent could force every US cell provider to allow Skype and other third-party programs to run on any devices that can support the code in hardware. The decision could be especially damaging for Apple, which deliberately closed down outside development for the iPhone under the assertion that a protected system would preserve its user experience. An unlocked iPhone would be able to use Skype and other VoIP tools through its Wi-Fi access, bypassing AT&T's network entirely.
Skype's Libertelli, however, said that these systems would be necessary to a healthy phone industry. He argued that restrictive software practices only damaged carriers' abilities to compete on software, discouraging customers from switching to different networks.
"Why do we see closed systems on the wireless side?" he asked. "If (we) believe that software-defined competition is the future, we think we can do better if we open up the whole category of devices." [via ZDNet]