Josh Silverman, chief executive officer of Skype, wants to make sure that his Internet communications service works over the 3G networks of various phone companies including AT&T. He is going to be speaking tomorrow at an event organized by the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C., extolling the virtues of an open mobile ecosystem and the importance of apps. The good news is that Silverman will have an audience that will include FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, himself a champion of the open mobile Internet. (Genachowski is a member of GigaOM’s Top 15 Mobile Influencers.)
Skype is currently in the process of being carved out of its parent, eBay. A group of investors led by Menlo Park, Calif.-based private equity firm Silver Lake Partners are buying about 65 percent of the company from eBay for roughly $2 billion. For Skype, the next phase of growth is going to come from mobile phones. So far, Skype has benefited handsomely from the iPhone. In July 2009, the company said its iPhone application was downloaded about 4 million times.
“The usage on iPhone is pretty good, but it is still handcuffed,” Silverman said in an interview last week. He talked to me at length about all issues pertaining to Skype, except he wouldn’t discuss its lawsuit with JoltID. Silverman is convinced that Skype usage would go up if the service worked on 3G networks instead of being restricted to just Wi-Fi. Most people want to use their own mobile applications instead of being herded by carriers, Brookings noted in a study released last week.
Skype is one of those applications. “Most people want to use Skype over the wide area networks,” said Silverman. If it is allowed to work over the 3G network, then Skype starts to challenge the voice services of the cellular providers, something that isn’t likely to be viewed favorably by Ma Bell and its cohorts. “We want the telcos to get out of the way,” he argued.
“It is one Internet, and it doesn’t matter what (kind of) network and what device you use to get to it,” said Silverman. He sees no distinction between a PC or an iPhone, just as there is no difference in wired and wireless networks. Silverman might get his wish when we see faster 4G-styled networks powered by technologies such as Long Term Evolution and WiMAX become commonly available. At present, the 3G networks can be described as fragile at best, and they don’t have enough bandwidth to offer a decent Skype call experience.
The rest of my conversation with Silverman, including a discussion about his company’s platform strategy and its plans to take on the enterprise, will appear later this week.