Who Blocked Who in Skype and Fring Fight?

Just days after introducing video calling between Apple’s iPhone and other handsets, Fring today says that Skype is blocking its service, which allows Fring users to voice, IM and video chat with friends on Skype and other platforms. Fring called the action an “anti-competitive ambush,” in light of Fring’s recent addition of video support — a service that Skype currently offers on desktops, but not on mobiles. Not long after Fring launched the video chat feature, the company had to shut it down due to capacity issues.

On the surface, this sounds like a clear-cut case of Skype being concerned with a competing service and therefore attempting to shut Fring down to keep it from leveraging Skype’s customers. But the situation appears more complex than that — a Skype spokesperson responded to our request for comment with this statement, and pointed us to a Skype blog post published today:

Skype has been in discussions with Fring regarding our belief that Fring is breaching our API Terms of Use and End User License Agreement. Skype is disappointed that an amicable resolution was not possible, but Fring’s decision to withdraw Skype functionality immediately was of its own choice.  Skype encourages developers to build products that work with Skype in accordance with our various API licenses. However, Skype will rigorously protect its brand and reputation and those companies that do not comply with our terms will be subject to enforcement.

So although Skype has been supported on Fring since 2007 — Fring users can chat with Skype customers, as well as those on GoogleTalk and Twitter — Skype’s comment indicates there has been a licensing dispute for some time. And perhaps more importantly, Skype says it hasn’t blocked Fring at all — Fring has ceased supporting Skype integration on its own.

I asked Fring about Skype’s official comment and received this response via email, which turns the entire situation into a he-said, she-said circle:

As for motivation you’ll have to ask Skype. What’s clear is that Skype took advantage of the fact that we had to temporary [sic] reduce Skype connectivity to support the huge number of mobile video calls. Skype then demanded that we NOT restore connectivity to Skype. The minute they return to open communications we will be happy to reconnect.

Although the truth probably lies in between the two company statements, Skype does have a history of claiming openness while some of its actions dictate otherwise. Perhaps the best example is that of Skype Mobile for Android handsets. Instead of fully supporting Google’s open operating system for handsets, Skype removed a Skype Lite client in the U.S. from the Android Market when it partnered with Verizon Wireless earlier this year. As a result, the only U.S. Android devices with access to a Skype client are on a single carrier.

Sadly, such integration between clients and platforms is challenging enough without licensing issues and carrier-specific deals. As my friend Andy Abramson noted immediately after Fring faced overwhelming demand for iPhone video calling, “Fring has a capacity issue. This is why Skype was smart to take their “wait and see” position on interoperability with FaceTime.” Without the right infrastructure to support services, what sounds like a great new platform or interoperability method can quickly turn into a poor end-user experience.

Hopefully, folks at Skype and Fring will talk with each other to try and work out any licensing or API issues — perhaps a regular land-line would provide the proper neutral ground.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d.):

SkypeKit: Skype’s Platform for CE-Based Communication

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