Will Microsoft-Skype Finally Kill the Cellular Minute?

May 10, 2011

As someone who has watched Microsoft try and fail to embrace and extend the idea of Voice over IP on more than one occasion, today’s announcement of Microsoft’s purchase of Skype has the feeling of an “all-in” moment at the World Series of Poker. It’s not a stretch to see Microsoft trying to goose the juice for Windows on mobile devices by blending it with the world’s most popular form of voice communication. But is it enough to kill off the cellular carriers’ legacy “minutes” rate plans?

Just yesterday I happened to be in a cellular carrier store, seeing if I could add another phone to my current smartphone plan. What I wanted — and this seems reasonable — was a smaller, flip-architecture phone to make voice calls and sometimes check email. What I didn’t want was a huge addition to my bill since I don’t use my cellular devices to talk that much — I rarely hit my 450-minute a month limit — but the carrier in question had no way to satisfy my desire to have one plan for multiple devices.

Instead, I was told that any “shared” phone plan had to have a minimum voice contract of 1,500 minutes per month — no matter whether I used them or not. Arguing did nothing to help since store personnel aren’t able to modify plans. And I suspect I would find no different a situation at any other major carrier. So even though smartphones, apps and data are all the rage the big-change ante in the cellular contract game is still the voice plan, something we almost never talk about anymore. But Micro-Skype has the potential to change all that, especially when you throw in the chips of partner Nokia.

Verizon Wireless and other carriers may have made noises about partnering with Skype before, but it’s hard to believe they were serious about really enabling an over-the-top carnivore whose very DNA is all about making “minutes” irrelevant. Now you have some big players with big bankrolls who could do some truly innovative things: How about a Windows Smartphone from Sprint, running Skype with unlimited data on the Cleawire WiMAX network? For, say, $50 a month? All you can call and all you can download? With a portable hotspot embedded to beam Wi-Fi to any other device you own, like an iPad?

Right now, of course, this is simply a dream and it may not ever occur given Microsoft’s apparent inability to do anything innovative when it comes to communications. But by buying Skype they have taken the keys to the single most innovative application and service in the voice space, an entity that scares the bejeebers out of the telecom status quo. Let’s see if Ballmer has one more win in him. It’s long past time for the cellular billed minute to finally die.

Sprint: 40,000 HTC EVO Users Already Signed up for Fring — and Using it 8 Hours a Day

June 15, 2010

While we still don’t have any concrete details on how many HTC EVO 4G smartphones Sprint has sold so far, it’s safe to assume that a lot of them have gone out the door — and according to a Sprint exec at a WiMAX symposium Tuesday, some 40,000 of those devices are now using the Fring application for mobile video and voice calls, spending an average of eight logged-in hours per day.

Nathan Smith, with Sprint’s developer program, dropped the Fring-usage nugget on a crowd of about 150 or so developer and VC types who each paid $25 to attend a full-day WiMAX symposium at the engineering school on the verdant Stanford campus here in Palo Alto, Calif. While introductory keynotes from execs at Sprint and Clearwire didn’t do much than reiterate already known facts about the partners’ nascent national WiMAX network, Smith’s presentation and a related one from Clearwire’s products and services VP Dow Draper got a little more in-depth on where network use is headed, and why the EVO launch was so important to getting developers interested.

Draper said that in talking to developers about WiMAX, they would say “that’s great, but where’s the phone?” With the EVO already commercially available and more 4G phones promised from Clearwire before the end of the year, it’s a safe bet that Draper’s contention that “4G will enable video to become the ‘new normal’ ” may be a conservative statement before too long.

The immediate jump of users to Fring, a Skype-like program that is already available on Android platforms like the HTC EVO 4G, is proof that “people are using the devices for video,” Smith said. Sprint has also signed up streaming-video provider Qik as a partner for the HTC EVO.

Samsung Mondi: Available Now, $450 Unlocked

July 21, 2009

When we told you this morning that the Samsung Mondi MID was going to be available soon, we didn’t know that soon means now! After chatting with Samsung’s Kim Titus, he told us the device is available now in an unlocked format directly from Samsung for $450 ($449.99 list, $454.94 with shipping). And on Aug. 1, Titus said the Mondi will also be available in Clear stores and Best Buy locations in all live Clearwire markets (Baltimore, Portland, Ore., Atlanta and Las Vegas), at the $450 unlocked price as well as a $349 option with a two-year Clear contract.

We played around with the device a bit here at the Clearwire Las Vegas launch event, and were impressed how well the touch-screen and software keyboard works. There is a hard keyboard too. The Windows Mobile-based device also includes versions of Word, Excel and Powerpoint that allow real document creation and editing, not just reading. Add in a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack, include earphones with speaker attached and this device starts to get real interesting. But that’s not all!

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