Wednesday, May 06, 2009

3's brave new world!

3 in the UK are heavily promoting that they are changing mobile forever by offering unlimited free calls. At a slightly closer glance this is all based around their relationship with Skype - and what they are really saying is that people on a 3 contract or on PAYG for 90 days after activating a top-up, will be able to make unlimited free Skype calls to other skype users and landlines and mobiles abroad.

There are some small flies in the ointment however:
  • you need a handset that can run the three Skype client. My E61i I use on 3 isn't supported which is a pity, especially snce other equivalent handsets are. All the current handsets being sold are compatible which is good.
  • you must use the special 3 skype client. If you use some other skype clinet (e.g. Fring) you will rack up significant data traffic which could end up costing you a lot. Can't help feeling that this is going to be confusing for the normob and will lead to a Daily Mail headline or two. Usual mobile industry problem of lack of simple predictability of cost.
  • According to the support site "3 doesn’t support Skype video calling (known as SkypeIn), Skype SMS (texting) or Skype voicemail" (sic) so if you use anything beyond the basics of Skype you are out of luck.
  • SkypeOut only works outside the UK - if you want to make calls to UK numbers you have to use a conventional mobile voice call.
While it would be easy to throw our hands up in horror at some of these restrictions they do make some sense in terms of making it possible for 3 to do it at all - and provide a usefully different view on mobile service provision in the process. Distinctly disruptive!

At a more strategic level this is one one hand fairly brave and on the other playing to their strengths. The obvious risk of any operator doing this sort of thing is that they canibalise their voice revenues, but given 3's demographic are not likely to be massively voice-centric this is far less of a risk for them than it would be for the likes of Vodafone - who are thus unlikely to feel able to follow giving 3 a useful point of differentiation.

Three have been doing this for a while now - since the X series came out - but they seem to be now pushing it as the defining difference of being with 3. Will be interesting to see how the other operators respond!

PS. This week's carnival is up over at mobilestance.

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