The Mobile Lowdown 05-09-11: Skype; Rovio IPO; Apple Nuance; US Cellular 4G

Our look at some of the big stories in mobile today: more Skype partnering and merger speculation, this time with Microsoft; (NSDQ: MSFT) Angry Birds maker talks up going public; Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and Nuance chatter resurfaces; and U.S. Cellular hops on to the LTE express train.

Skype: Microsoft is the latest name getting linked up with the Internet voice giant Skype. According to sources cited by GigaOm, the tech giant is interested in either partnering, investing in or buying Skype.

The logic, writes Om Malik, is that Skype would give Microsoft a big boost in the web collaboration space, particularly in competition against the likes of Cisco (NSDQ: CSCO) and Google; (NSDQ: GOOG) and it would also give Microsoft another leg up in its partnerships with mobile carriers, as they transition to LTE and look increasingly to offering VoIP services.

Like Facebook, Microsoft could use a leg up to boost its voice services in its portfolio of communications services. (Microsoft’s most comprehensive attempt at this up to now was Windows Live Call, which was discontinued in June 2010.)

The Microsoft news follows on from last week’s rumors that Skype is allegedly in discussions with Google and/or Facebook on either partnerships or outright acquisitions.

Regardless of who will be doing what with Skype, an announcement is apparently going to be made this week, possibly as early as today.

Rovio: Looks like Angry Birds’ developer Rovio may be more keen to go public than it is to be bought. According to a report in the Finnish business paper Kauppalehti (via Reuters), the Might Eagle (CMO) Peter Vesterbacka says the company is looking to IPO in three or four years’ time. For what it’s worth, that’s actually a shorter time frame than the company’s chairman Kaj Hed gave in March — which could mean the company is shortening its projections on an IPO, or simply that the execs are just putting out random dates.

Still, the main point is that the company is publicly stating it wants to go public rather than get bought. “We can carry out all of our current plans without bourse listing, but bourse is still a more meaningful direction than, for instance, selling the company,” he said. The jury is still out on whether a company that had its big break from a hit mobile game can catapult itself into the ranks of the world’s biggest entertainment brands — but this, he says, is the ambition for the next three years.

Apple Nuance: Remember when Steve Wozniak mis-spoke about Apple buying the speech-recognition company Nuance back in November 2010? Well, maybe he was just covering his tracks after all: the two names are coming up in the same breath once again, negotiating a deal, according to TechCrunch.

What does that mean? It could mean an acquisition — Nuance also works with a number of Apple’s competitors, which could be one reason to buy it up. Or it could mean some kind of deal to use Nuance’s technology. That would not be far-fetched, either. Nuance is already a tech supplier to Apple, in the form of Siri, the voice application that Apple bought, and which licenses Nuance technology for its service. That would fit in neatly with the prediction that voice recognition will be a big part of iOS 5, the next iteration of the operating system used by Apple’s portable devices.

U.S. Cellular: The U.S. looks like it will be swimming in 4G options by 2012. U.S. Cellular, one of the smaller carriers in the market, is planning to launch an LTE network “in time for the holiday season” this year. The rollout initially will cover at least 25 percent of the operator’s current subscriber base, it says. The first markets to get the service will be in about two dozen cities and towns in Iowa, Wisconsin, Maine, North Carolina, Texas and Oklahoma, where the company has some of its highest concentrations of subscribers. The rollout will be done in collaboration with King Street Wireless, a holding company associated with U.S. Cellular.

The US Cellular launch is the latest in ‘4G’ services in the country — if you take 4G in its widest possible sense, that is. Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) offers an LTE service, T-Mobile USA offers enhanced speed on its existing 3G network. And Sprint (NYSE: S) and Clearwire (NSDQ: CLWR) have so far been going the WiMAX route. AT&T (NYSE: T) is also planning to launch its first 4G offerings this year.