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Skype-Hype and my dream device

Unbeliveable. Yesterday there were two, very badly researched, technology related reports on the Danish Public Service networks.

First the story on Google offering search for cheap airfares, now the announcement of a WiFi enabled “cell-phone” that can place calls using Skype.

Yesterday several news sources reported, that the Taiwan based hardware company Accton, and Skype had announced a WiFi enabled cell-phone, that will use Skype to place mobile calls using the Internet

Skype-Hype is, for obvious reasons, rampant in Danish media…The danish co-founder, overnight, became the 10th wealthiest man in Denmark, when eBay bought Skype.

What annoys me, is that the two Danish Public Service TV stations, once again, reported the news without doing any journalism. It’s not that hard, funny enogh, all it takes is Google and some time.

From DR: Tal gratis i mobil med Skype (English: Place cell-calls for free using Skype)

From TV2: Gratis mobiltelefoni på vej (English: Free mobile telephony is comming)

This is simply based on an article from Ritzau.

So I decided to do some journalistic research, since DR and TV2 didn’t bother.

On the Accton site, this was the only press release I could find, no mention of the devices:
Accton Teams with Skype to Make Internet Free Calling Even More Accessible

There is a product page, but the links to what I suspect would be a fact-sheet are broken.

Finally I managed to find a Accton VM1188T 802.11b/g VoWifi Phone PDF fact sheet, by using the sitemap on the Accton site.

I must admit that it looks promissing, and it’s clear that the focus is enterprises, homes and SOHOs, it’s not intended as a replacement for the regular cell-phone (yet). From the fact sheet, it looks like it can be used without Skype, since it supports the standard Voice over IP (VoIP) protocol, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). I can’t see why I shouldn’t be able to use it with my current VoIP provider It is, however, very wise for Accton to hook up with a service provider, and a global one like Skype. For now I’m satisfied with my SIP< ->POTS adapter and analog cordless phone, but having all this in a quite cool-looking, all digital, portable package is indeed compelling, and for me it would be instantanious useful:

I have WiFi at home
I have a VoIP service provider
I subscribe to TDC Hotspot, so I’m never far away from a WiFi connection in Denmark
My favourite café has WiFi

To DRs credit, they did later publish a comment from an industry commentator. He points out, that placing calls using WiFi while abroad, will be expensive.

I think he’s missing the point, though. Here’s my attempt at seeing through the hype:

1. The phone is useless outside WiFi range, unless it is quad-band (GSM-900, GSM-1800, GSM-1900 and WiFi), or can be hooked up to POTS analog connection ;-). I haven’t seen any credible reports about this, but at least one report mentioned that a GSM/WiFi combo would be offered early 2006. For now Accton is NOT trying to offer a cell-phone replacement, and this is very clear from their press-release.
2. If you can find an open WiFi connection, you MIGHT be able to place calls for free. This is not as difficult to find as you might think. A lot of International hotels already offers WiFi, and if you’re attending a conference, there’s a great chance that WiFi is available. If you take a stroll in a major city, like Copenhagen, you can find an open WiFi connection quite easily. Last year, I used an open WiFi connection in New York City, to send Hotmail e-mails from my iPAQ. This was while I was standing in line to catch a Broadway show.
3. You can use it at home, if you have WiFi and a VoIP provider.
4. Nokia is already offering cellphones with WiFi connectivity, e.g. the N80. The iPAQ has had WiFi and Skype for a while.

I’m a bit suspicious about how easy using the Accton handset, will be. For instance, if the handset has to be configured manually when you roam, it’s useless as a mass-market consumer product. And Accton/Skype are thinking mass-market since, they estimate a current demand of 50 million. But if we’re talking enterprise users, the demand will easily exceed this, imagine replacing ALL fixednet phones in ALL enterprises of the world, and enterprises have staff to support and configure the phones. That is the IMMEDIATE potential of this.

All I want to know…WHERE can get a demo, and buy one. I’ve just used Acctons contact form, asking them to send me some more information – stay tuned.

This made me think of what my dream device would be like. It would be something quite different. What I would like is a voice-mail or multimedia client, with features like this:

My dream device
Think of it as a videocamera that can send and receive asynchronous and synchronous “e-mail”, using whatever network is in range (BlueTooth, GSM, UMTS, WiFI, WiMAX etc.) seamlessly

Inside WiFi range, I want to place regular calls and send text- and MSM messages using WiFi.

Outside WiFi range, I want to place regular calls and send text- and MSM messages, using GSM.

In- or outside WiFi range, I want to be able to maintain an inbox and outbox of MSM/MIME-type messages, with the possibility to attatch voice, text, pictures and video attatchments, e.g. e-mail. The messages will be synced automatically when I’m within WiFi range, or if I’m in a hurry using GSM/Edge/GPRS/UMTS.

If I’m outside WiFi range, and I need to send and recieve urgent text-messages, without delay, it could be done using some low bandwidth technology, not nesseceraly GSM/SMS/MSM, it could be something else/new.

By default all messages, both in- and outbound, should be saved to a (web)server. You can, however, configure the service, so that in- and outbound voice-messages are relayed to the voice-mail of the reciepient, send as MSM, a mail-box or a weblog. It’s not far from what Nokia is attempting with their Lifeblog service.

And did I forget to mention…I want to be able to control it, using voice commands, that it should be the size of an iPod nano/Nokia 6100, include GPS and deliver days of standby power.

Now there’s a challenge for the hardware AND software manufacturers. The hurdles are the seamless adaptation to the available network protocols (I can live with GSM and WiFi), voice control, formfactor and batterylife. I believe that everything else could be build using current technology.

Currently I think that the newest Nokia Lifeblog enabled devices are closest to realising my dream device.

3 replies on “Skype-Hype and my dream device”

TV2 actually bothered to do some journalism, and it’s actually quite good:

I’d say that TV2 vindicated them self.

It is however quite Skype related. As I mentioned, I can’t see anything in the specs that should prevent you from using the WiFi Phone with other VoIP providers than Skype. But it could be that Accton and Skype has an exclusive cross-marketing deal that ties the phones you can buy on, for instance, the danish market, to the Skype servers. There’s no doubt that the phones will be offered preconfigured for Skype, this clearly augments the consumer mass-market potential, by simplifying the setup process.

But Skype had better start hiring some techinical support personel, and be prepared for a lot of returns from disgruntled customers.

Hmm…This actually makes the eBay purchase of Skype make sense. eBay already have skilled technical staff, and the money to hire more, if needed.

More information will be available at the january 2006 CES in Las Vegas. I’m considering attending the CES, not only because of this, but because a lot of technologies, like VoIP and WiMAX, are coming of age as consumer products.

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