Skypephone changes everything

Skype, the internet phone service, is all about disruption.

I remember thinking, when I first started using Skype back in 2004, that here’s a small, nimble company that will drive a massive wedge into traditional telephone service business models.

From a user perspective, the model is dead simple and highly compelling – free phone calls via your computer to other users of the service, and very low cost calls via your computer to ‘normal’ telephone numbers, literally anywhere on the planet.

Skype (and its later competitors) has changed the way millions of people around the world communicate where prohibitive costs of using a phone service are no longer a huge barrier – a barrier erected by the big telecommunications operators.

Arguably, Skype has played a not insignificant role in the changes we’ve seen in the past few years in many countries, notably in Europe and North America, with those very same telecommunications companies, what they offer, and how they price it.

Parallel to all this are continuing advances in technology, especially the rapid growth in broadband internet penetration in many countries and changes in people’s behaviors in terms of what they want, how they want it and when they want it.

This is especially the case with the so-called digital natives, the younger generation who dictate change through their own insistent and influential behaviours.

There’s no better way at the moment to drive this point home about changing behaviours (and expectations) than The Rise of the Mobile Super User, a thought-provoking 49-page white paper written by Will Harris and available on free download from Edelman.

These reflections were going through my mind yesterday during the press launch of the Skypephone (pictured above), a joint offering from Skype and UK mobile operator 3, which I attended.

It says to me – this changes everything.

We’re moving up a big notch, from broadband tied to computers and so the geographical restrictions on the things you can do (like make and receive free phone calls), to broadband untied, on mobile devices.

Some would argue that this isn’t new – you can get net access on mobile phones already, and have been able to for some years; and, depending on the device, install and use Skype.

True, but not like this.

Not an offering from a mobile operator – one of the perceived ‘bad guys,’ if you can take that expression in positive context – that gives you a device that’s centred around Skype which simply lets you connect with people in whatever way you choose: free via Skype, as well as with any other mobile phone on a cellular network.

No, what 3 and Skype are doing with the Skypephone is driving another wedge firmly into the next generation of communication – mobile.

I can’t think of anything that would have prevented any other mobile operator – Vodafone, O2, T-Mobile, Orange… take your pick – from doing something like this other than maintaining the high pricing status quo.

Skype would be willing – in the briefing, Skype acting CEO Michael van Swaaij quipped that Vodafone can call him any time for talks.

But who in their right business mind would offer a handset and associated services that includes making and receiving calls for free via their network? A crazy notion, isn’t it?

Well, if it’s crazy, then welcome to the asylum!

It gets better when you think of business use of a product like the Skypephone.

One of the questions I asked Kevin Russell, 3’s CEO, in yesterday’s press briefing was how he saw business opportunities for the Skypephone, given that it’s being positioned right now as a consumer product.

His said if (I’d day more likely ‘when’) 3 were to target businesses, it would be the small- to medium-size business sector (which is a classic Skype business target).

But he mentioned anecdotally that his first sale of a Skypephone was to the CEO of a large company who wants to communicate with his 10,000 employees.

That’s the thin edge of a very wide wedge.

I was also interested to hear Kevin say that experiential marketing and word of mouth will play significant roles in 3’s marketing and communication of the Skypephone and engagement with users and influencers.

So don’t expect any 30-second TV spots. Instead, look for blogosphere and related online commentary.

Following the press briefing, I spoke with John Penberthy-Smith, 3’s marketing director. Our conversation included this topic.

That interview will be posted soon as an FIR Interview podcast (and I’ll add a link in this post when it is).

The Skypephone goes on sale in the UK on November 2 for £49.99 (talk about affordable) on pay-as-you-go, and free if you take out a contract.

It will roll out elsewhere in Europe and Australia in the coming weeks. There are no current plans to offer the phone in the USA.

I have not one but two Skypephones to play with for the next three months, courtesy of 3. Review to come (taster: this is one very cool gadget!).

Meanwhile, you can follow what other Skypephone players are doing with their phones at 3mobilebuzz.

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