Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype may have proved controversial thanks to the big sums involved – $8.5bn in cash, no less – but according to chairman Bill Gates it’s not just “a great deal for Microsoft” but something he personally was pushing for. “I was a strong proponent at the board level for the deal being done” Gates told the BBC about what is Microsoft’s largest ever acquisition, suggesting that it would “be fascinating to see how the brilliant ideas out of Microsoft research, coming together with Skype, what they can make of that.” However, others suggest that rather than just having improved video conferencing in its sights, Microsoft is actually looking to do what, so far, Apple and Google have failed to achieve: undermine the carriers.
Ex-Google and current Mozilla design lead Kevin Fox believes that Skype is the soft-carrier piece of a strategy pyramid that will see Microsoft use its Windows Phone OS and Nokia’s hardware capabilities to attempt to shift more voice minutes over VoIP than via traditional means.
“If over half of a soft carrier’s airtime minutes were carried over wi-fi rather than a leased cellular network, that carrier could beat a national carrier on price even if the national carrier doubled their costs when they leased access to the soft carrier, and for every customer who only has 3G access there’s another who has almost exclusively wi-fi access, and over time the scales continue to tip toward the latter, steadily lowering soft-carrier costs.” Kevin Fox
It’s not a new idea, as Fox admits. Google attempted to bypass carrier dominance with the Nexus One, selling the handset online through a special phone portal of its own. That failed to gain consumer traction, however, and Google was forced to work with carriers getting the Nexus One into retail stores instead.
Similarly, Apple is rumored to have spent considerable time and effort fighting its corner over the iPhone, including persuading AT&T to enable Visual Voicemail support on the handset. More recently, the company is believed to have been experimenting embedded SIM technology which would allow Apple to shift activation and provisioning of new handsets away from the operators and instead to its own iTunes ecosystem.
“The idea of video conferencing is going to get so much better than it is today” Bill Gates suggested, pointing out that “Skype actually does get a fair bit of revenue.” That developmental shift may well extend to voice calls, if Microsoft has its way.