Put me in the cynics’ camp with Andy and Om when it comes to VoIP-on-mobile start-ups whose main selling point is a convoluted method to escape high (usually international) roaming fees. The newest entrant into an already crowded field is Nimbuzz, which gets a glowing review over at MobileCrunch but as far as I can tell, offers not much more than local-call prices for all calls placed to another Nimbuzz user.
Putting aside the hoops you need to jump through — like having the same app on both ends, and then the extra button-pushes — the simple question to ask is if Nimbuzz or any of these minute-stealers starts gaining traction, wouldn’t the big carriers figure out a way to drop prices to eliminate the challenge? Andy arrives at this same conclusion, pointing to today’s news of 3’s decision to drop roaming charges.
It all kind of reminds me of the early days of cellular, when AT&T innovated (!) by introducing nationwide dialing plans with no roaming fees. It was such a no-brainer idea that every competitor had to follow. Maybe the new wave of minute-stealing businesses that VCs are pouring cash into are an attempt to strike a Skype-value deal in the mobile voice space, but none of these plans sounds as drop-dead simple to understand and use as Skype itself.
Most of the players in the space seem to understand this argument, and keep talking about how the future will bring more than just cheap calls, but nuanced applications. So far, there’s just a dribble in that realm, like Iotum’s presence features and TalkPlus’s multiple-number schemes. For the others, it’s a race down to zero against carriers whose quarterly revenues run in the tens of billions. Which makes those millions in VC funds look a bit small.