Are telcos working together to make their own Skype?

May 6, 2008

The blogs are all abuzz in response to Om’s reporting of a theory by ThinkEquity analyst Anton Wahlman.

AT&T, in conjunction with some 10-15 incumbent telecom carriers — British Telecom, Deutsche Telecom and NTT among them — is plotting to launch a Skype competitor

Big shifts in the telecom landscape are forcing the carriers to think along these lines, Wahlman said

Om himself adds:

If voice is a losing business, why shouldn’t the carriers cannibalize it themselves, then sell other services, including video?

This is fun stuff to kick around (for a little while), but even if telcos are thinking about such a move, there is a big gap between thinking about and executing, especially when it comes to the world’s largest incumbent telecom carriers.

There is one thing that Om says which I disagree with: “Realistically speaking, there’s a slim chance of anyone catching up with Skype.” I think that is a very naive perspective. I’ve said it here many times: Skype is is not “sticky” – it has a very weak and tenuous hold on its customers. The recent efforts toward monthly and annual service plans are an attempt to improve this, but the Skype user-base remains a finicky bunch, with little or no loyalty. They can be moved without that much trouble – in fact, most of them are early adopters aleady concurrently using other services in addition to Skype. I think of Mosaic, Netsape, IE, and Firefox as perfect examples of how quickly an apparently “locked-in” user-base can completely forget the old “hot thing when the new “hot thing” comes along. While a collaboration of telcos are the least likely to do it, somebody can (and certainly will) steal Skype’s user-base, and, once it starts, it will probably happen much faster than anybody expects.

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