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Why Verizon’s Skype client forces Android Wi-Fi shutdown

Verizon Wireless’ need – it says requirement – to meet FCC law enforcement rules for its Skype Mobile application, along with an Android quirk, could create a major disincentive for some Skype Mobile users.

* Note: This story has been updated. The original version stated Skype Mobile 911 calls are delivered over 3G. In fact, they revert back to the device dialer and are carried on Verizon's voice network.

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Verizon Wireless users with Android-based devices – most notably the popular Motorola Droid – are not able to run the new Skype Mobile client with the phone’s Wi-Fi radio turned on. The consequence: Users can either turn Wi-Fi on the device off completely, forcing all data services to run over the Verizon 3G network, or leave Wi-Fi on and be unable to use Skype Mobile to make calls or even have it running in the background, the major of appeal of the app in the first place.

News of this quirk came this week courtesy of Skype Journal, whose editor Phil Wolff ran into the problem when testing Skype Mobile on a Motorola Droid device (see screen capture). The fact that the Verizon Skype Mobile implementation doesn’t use Wi-Fi as its network connection isn’t news; the realization that Android users cannot turn on Wi-Fi at all while using the app is.

In an interview, Verizon said the problem was not designed to force users onto its 3G data network or for any other nefarious intent. It also said the problem only occurs on Android-based devices; for instance, the Skype Mobile client does not have the same problem running on RIM Blackberry phones.

Nonetheless, Verizon did admit the glitch was a problem for users of its much-hyped Skype Mobile offering and said it was working with Google, device manufacturers and the Skype Mobile development team to find a fix.

The Wi-Fi problems are ironic because many early mobile VoIP applications – especially on Apple’s iPhone – are available only on Wi-Fi, not 3G. The problem represents a fairly significant bump in the road for the much-touted Skype Mobile because app-happy Android users seem the most likely early adopters of the service.

Verizon’s ‘Unique’ Skype Implementation

As noted previously, Verizon and Skype worked closely to come up with their implementation of Skype on the VZW network. And it works in some unexpected ways. Rather than run Skype over an open 3G data connection – as Skype on the PC would operate – the two companies custom-built a solution that delivers Skype calls over the Verizon Wireless voice network, while other Skype services like instant messaging, chat or location/presence – and most importantly in this case, call signaling – run over the 3G network.

Verizon’s stated goal – and one which Skype has enthusiastically backed both in interviews and by moving the bulk of its mobile app development effort to the Verizon project – was to improve the quality of Skype calls on its network by giving them a clear path on its voice network.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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