Summary:

Mobile operators have treated Skype as a threat for years. Now they’re going to profit off it by allowing customers to buy Skype Credit directly through their phone bill or pre-paid allowance and taking a cut.

Helping hand shakes another in an agreement

Mobile operators have what might charitably be termed an interesting relationship with VoIP services, particularly the market leader, Microsoft’s Skype. These services are partly to blame for the decline in voice revenue, and there’s been all sorts of net-neutrality-busting throttling and premium pricing going on in various countries as the carriers try to dissuade users from going all-IP.

That strategy met with only limited success, so last year Skype was able to confidently team up with the mobile billing company Mach on direct operator billing for Skype Credit. And now it’s here, starting in Russia: as of today, Skype users in that country can pay for credit through their normal mobile phone bill or pre-paid account balance.

According to a Mach spokeswoman, the same opportunity will be extended to Skype users in the U.S. and Canada later this month, and other countries will follow. Mach, which provides a billing gateway, has direct agreements with carriers in Canada and Russia. In the U.S. it is partnering up with Payvia, which has similar arrangements there.

“As well as our existing users benefiting from this new payment option, we expect direct operator billing to attract new customers who are looking for more convenient ways to manage their spend,” Skype payments chief Jason Macklin said in a statement.

No carriers are being quoted by name, but “leading mobile operators” are apparently playing ball. Mach lists Orange, Telefonica, T-Mobile, Telus and Verizon Wireless as customers.

It should go without saying that the operators will get a cut of the Skype Credit purchases, although how much they get seems to be a tightly-guarded secret. The credit will cost the same as if it was purchased through more traditional means.

For Skype, it potentially means more reach. For the carriers, it means they get some kind of revenue stream beyond data usage (which is usually flat-rate these days) out of the ‘over-the-top’ technology that’s so disrupted their core business. It may just be that everyone’s a winner here.

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