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Skype courting carriers

Ed Gubbins

After years of stealing telecom service share from traditional providers, Skype is looking to cozy up with carriers.

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The company recently broke free of legal entanglements between its former parent, eBay, and its founders. Its chief operating officer resigned, heading to the U.S. to "pursue career interests within the global Fortune 500 technology, telecommunications and media industry." And under its new owners (an investor group that includes Silver Lake Partners and Andreessen Horowitz), it is focusing in the near term on carrier partners. Its CEO, Josh Silverman, has hinted at possible deals in the works with Chinese mobile operators in particular but is more explicit about the timing.

"You should expect to see [more carrier deals] in 2010," Silverman told Dow Jones Newswires. "The attitude of carriers has shifted a lot in 18 months, and we think that is a trend that is going to continue."

Not only have carrier attitudes shifted a lot — toward third-party voice services on their networks — the entire landscape has as well. Skype competitors come in all shapes and sizes now, from little-known mashups and features on existing services to the big kahuna, Google, whose acquisition of VoIP start-up Gizmo5 this month seems aimed at taking advantage of Skype's long-lived corporate distractions.

Silverman is taking aim at Google's strengths by downplaying the importance of innovative features that have fueled the rise of Google Voice. 

"This is not about adding new features anymore," Silverman told The New York Times. "This is about making the few things that matter work really well."

That sentiment makes Silverman sound more like a carrier than an over-the-top Web services firm, in line with the company's new partner strategy. And that thinking may be partly the result of the difficulty Skype had with its application developer program, which the company closed this fall because not enough people were using it.

Going forward, Skype may focus new feature innovations more toward its business customers, though that effort will take a while. Silverman said the company wants to create purpose-built enterprise software but acknowledged it could take three to five years to do so. In that time, plenty of attitudes in the enterprise communications space are bound to shift as well.  

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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