Last October, Microsoft won final approval from the European Commission to go ahead with its acquisition of the popular VoIP service Skype. Now, however, this approval is being challenged by network equipment maker Cisco. While Cisco says it doesn't oppose the merger, it does want the European Commission to place "conditions that would ensure greater standards-based interoperability." The Italian VoIP and fixed-line provider Massagenet also joined Cisco's appeal.
When the original deal was unconditionally approved, the Europen Commision explicitly noted that "there are no competition concerns in this growing market where numerous players, including Google, are present."
Cisco: Afraid that Microsoft Could "Control the Future of Video Communications"
Cisco, according to its appeal, worries that Microsoft/Skype could "seek to control the future of video communications." That seems to be quite a stretch given how vibrant this market is. While Microsoft will integrate Skype into its mobile operating system, there is little reason to believe that it could "control the future of video communications." Maybe Cisco is more worried about losing an edge in the enterprise market once Microsoft integrates Skype into its productivity solutions for large companies.
Not too long ago, a number of cities in the U.S. were experimenting with offering free WiFi to its citizens. Most of these projects were launched just as the recession was about to hit and quite a few of them were quickly abandoned as the money well dried up. While we haven't heard much about new city-wide projects in the U.S. since then, London is about to get what its backers call "Europe's biggest WiFi zone."
Installation of the hardware has already started and the roll-out should be complete by March.
Olympic Class WiFi?
It'll be interesting to see if this network will be able to handle the traffic generated by millions of visitors when the 2012 Olympics start. Given that many of them will try to offload their data connections to WiFi instead of paying for roaming costs (and maybe even attempt to make the odd Skype call now and then), it's hard to imagine that the network will be able to hold up.
A few years ago, Google teamed up with a number of airports in the U.S. to provide travelers with free WiFi during the holidays. This year, it's Skype's turn to make a similar offer. From December 21st thru December 27th, Skype (and, by extension, Microsoft), will offer free access to third-party WiFi hotspots through its Skype WiFi program in over 50 airports all across the U.S. Given that you have to use either Skype for Windows or Mac, or the Skype WiFi app for iOS, this is obviously also a promotion for this service, which the company introduced a few months ago.
This promotion includes virtually all of the major U.S. airports (and quite a few smaller ones) that don't currently offer free WiFi.
Skype's offer is obviously less generous than Google's past promotions (which was valid until January 15th), but if you are traveling during the holidays, now is probably a good time to install Skype's WiFi app on your laptop or iOS device.
Outside of this promotion, Skype WiFi can be a good option if you find yourself in need for a quick Internet fix, but don't need a full hour to just download your email, for example. Prices start at $0.06 per minute, though the app will provide you with the exact pricing depending on whose WiFi network you are using and where you are.
If you’re a frequent traveller, you know how much of a hassle paid WiFi networks can be. For a while now, recent Microsoft acquisition Skype has been trying to make things a bit easier by giving its users the ability to pay for WiFi access with the money they already have on their Skype accounts. Even better, Skype WiFi access is metered by the minute, so you don’t have to pay for an expensive hourly or daily pass just because you need to send an email from your laptop. Prices start at $0.06 per minute, though may be higher depending on the provider. Until now, Skype Wifi was only available for Windows machines and Macs, but starting today, you will also be able to use Skype’s new Wifi app for iOS to get online.
Once opened, the Skype WiFi app simply recognizes that you are on a network that supports payment with Skype credits (there are about a million of these worldwide). Once you sign in, you simply click the “Go Online” button and start using the Internet. Just remember to also go back to the app and click “Disconnect” before you get on your plane or leave that coffee shop in Rome.
For travellers who don’t want to pay roaming costs while abroad and who just want to get online quickly at the airport to download a book or magazine before a flight, this app could come in very handy. There are no caps on data usage while you are online and you only pay for the time you were actually using the WiFi. Once online, you can also use Skype to make phone calls.
For most people, this is probably a cheaper option than paying for a daily pass, though frequent travellers are probably still better off with monthly data plans from Boingo and similar companies. In order to give people a chance to try Skype WiFi, access will be free anywhere Skype credit is accepted “from Saturday 20th August 00:00 till Sunday 21st August 23:59 BST for a maximum of 60 minutes.”
During a press conference at its Silicon Valley headquarter today, Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerbergannounced the company’s new Skype-powered video chat feature. Thanks to this new feature, Facebook users can now easily start video chats directly from Facebook. To use it, Facebook users will have to install a small application on their desktop machines.
Easy Install, Great Video Quality
I just gave the new service a try and it’s clear that Facebook made the right choice by partnering with Skype. The video and audio quality is excellent and the chromeless window that pops up when you start a chat allows you to focus on the conversation. When you start a call, you’ll hear a ring and a box pops up on your Facebook page. It really couldn’t be much easier than that.
One nifty feature is that you can also leave video messages when your contact isn’t around to answer your call.
Facebook/Skype vs. Google Hangouts
We didn’t try group chats yet, but this is obviously a feature that also got a lot of attention when Google launched Google+ with Hangouts. Quite a few pundits argued that this was a killer feature for Google’s new social networking service. Google’s Hangout feature is slightly more impressive, but Facebook has clearly managed to steal some thunder from Google’s announcement (though both of these announcements were obviously in the works for months already).
Skype, of course, has been adding more Facebook functionality to its service over the last few months as well – up to the point where you can use Skype as a basic Facebook client
Zuckerberg also took some time to talk about Facebook’s guiding philosophy for the coming years. According to Zuckerberg, the driving factor for social networking in the coming years will not be about connecting the world anymore (because that has already happened for the most part, said Zuckerberg, though he also said that he hopes to get a billion people on Facebook “soon”), but “what cool stuff are you going to be able to build now that you have this kind of social infrastructure in place.”
Skype, the popular VoIP and text chat service announced a new beta version of its Windows client today. This new version (5.5 beta) doesn’t just include a number of visual enhancements – though it doesn’t do away with the clunky all-in-one interface – but also a deeper integration with Facebook. Skype now lets you chat directly with your Facebook friends and features a dedicated tab for easy access to your Facebook contacts.
Skype, which was recently acquired by Microsoft, already offered its users access to their Facebook news feeds in earlier versions, but this new version takes this integration a step further by also making Skype a Facebook IM client and giving its users access to their Facebook contacts database. As GigaOM’s Kevin C. Tofel points out, “Facebook continues to become the de facto contact database for many,” so this integration makes keeping your Skype contacts up to date a lot easier.
It’s also worth noting that Microsoft has always had a cozy relationship with Facebook (including an early investment in the service and subsequent integration into Bing and other services). Adding more Facebook services to what has now become a Microsoft product also makes sense in this context, especially given that Google and Facebook have never quite seen eye to eye.
No matter what phone you have and whether you have a data plan or not, Skype now lets you make international calls with just a few clicks and from any phone (after a quick setup).
For quite a while now, Skype has been offering Skype to Goas an easy and cheap way to make calls from any phone to your friends, family members and business contacts abroad, but the system wasn’t very flexible (you only got one dial in number) and not necessarily the easiest to use (you had to wade through quite a few voice prompts before you could make your call).
Now, with the new and enhanced Skype to Go, you can now set up a maximum of 9 local direct dial numbers that you can save in your contacts list and that automatically route your calls to your contacts abroad. Skype basically converts your international numbers into local ones.
The great thing about this new feature is that it works from any phone, on any network and doesn’t even eat into your data plans.
If you regularly call your brother in Spain, for example, Skype will give you a local number in the U.S. for him that you can save in your contacts list and whenever you feel like chatting with him, you just dial the local number, type in your pin and Skype will automatically route this call to his number in Spain. You pay Skype’s low international rates for these calls, as well as whatever your landline or mobile phone company charges you for local calls.
To set this up, you sign in to Skype on its website, tell Skype which number to call and it will generate a local number for you (you can choose area codes etc. yourself). Then, you save this local number in your contacts and you’re done.
Skype just announced its mobile partner program for operators at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. This program aims to bring the company’s services to markets with “low 3G broadband penetration.” Skype aims to introduce a new client for feature phones and smartphones that can utilize bandwidth more efficiently and will have “minimal impact on battery life and data usage. To enable this, Skype will also deploy a new purpose-built server solution for operators.
According to Skype’s VP and general manager of mobile, the company hopes to utilize this program to “give operators in emerging markets the possibility to tap into the global Skype community while providing a great user experience on a variety of mobile handsets.” Skype already has similar operator partnerships with Verizon, KDDI and Hutchison 3. This new program will make it easier for additional partners to bring Skype’s service to their networks.
In general, these earlier partnerships were aimed at smartphone users in established markets – though its partnership with Verizon also includes support for some feature phones. Today’s announcement specifically references feature phones and emerging markets. Skype clearly sees this as the major growth opportunity, though it remains to be seen how interested the carriers in these markets are, given that Skype’s free services often directly compete with the carriers’ offerings.
Also: More WiFi Hotspots
In addition to this, Skype also announced that it is expanding its pay-as-you go WiFi hotspot program Skype Access to include over 500,000 access points around the world. Skype Access partners include major WiFi providers like BT Openzone, Fon, M3 Connect and the in-flight hotspot solution Row 44. Skype users can pay for access to these networks with the help of their Skype credits.
For a lot of us, Skype is one of the most important applications on our computers. The early betas of Skype for Mac 5, though, were rough, as they introduced the same single-window interface that Skype for Windows users have had to live with for a while now. Many of the user interface choices the Skype for Mac team decided on also made the app harder to use. The betas also took away far too much space on the screen.
Wasting Screen Estate
The final release of the Mac version fixes some of the earlier problems (less whitespace, return of fullscreen mode for video etc.), but it still keeps its focus on the single-windows interface. This means you can’t just see a single chat conversation in a separate windows. Instead, you are forced to keep the contacts list open at all times. As so many things with this new version, this means you need far more real estate on your screen to use Skype now.
Skype says this new version is small enough to be kept at the side of your screen. I guess that depends on your screen, but just know that at a width of 460 pixels in its slimmest mode, it still 50% wider than the Skype for Mac app.
Interestingly, while you are on a voice or video call, you can close the contacts pane, but not while you are just using the text chat.
The Skype team did a lot of things right in this new version, though, especially when compared to the betas. The dial pad is now prominently displayed in the toolbar, it’s easier to find the Contacts Monitor (a list of all your contacts who are online now) and the UI now features less whitespace and a more condensed view of the information you actually want to see.
Free Group Video Calls are Gone
The new version does away with free group video calls. This doesn’t come as a surprise, as the same thing happened with the Windows version and has long been part of Skype’s roadmap. For $4.99, you can buy a day pass and $8.99 get you access to this feature for one month.
Usually, when we talk about plugins that crash our browsers, chances are that we are talking about Adobe’s Flash. Today, however, Mozilla announced that it is blocking the Skype Toolbar from its Firefox browser as it “is one of the top crashers of Mozilla Firefox 3.6.13, and was involved in almost 40,000 crashes of Firefox last week.”
The Skype toolbar examines every page you load for phone numbers and then re-renders these as clickable Skype buttons that enable users to initiate Skype calls right from their browser. According to Mozilla, the re-rendering of these phone numbers slows down some browser functions up to 300 times.
Mozilla is working with Skype to correct these issues and plans to lift this ban once the two companies have found a workable solution that does not lead to crashes and doesn’t slow the browser down.
Skype just launched the next update of its client software for windows and while there is little new in this version, the company did move the group video calling feature it introduced just a few months ago behind the premium firewall. Users who want to host video conferences with multiple users will need to get a subscription to Skype Premium ($8.99/month) or get a day pass ($4.99/day).
This move doesn’t come as a surprise. When the company announced this feature last year, it already stated that it would start charging for it sooner or later. These group video calls allow users to host between 3 and 10 people in a video chat room. To use this service, only the person who starts the group chat needs to pay for this premium feature. Everybody else on the call can just use the service for free.
Skype is also bringing group video calls to users of its business version, which gives corporations more control over how employees use the service.
For now, group video calling is only available on Windows machines. Skype hasn’t yet announced when it plans to bring this feature to the Mac.
More Skype News
It’s obviously been a very busy day for Skype. Not only did the company announce the acquisition of mobile video streaming service Qik, but Skype also just announced that its software will soon allow users on Verizon’s 4G LTE network to make mobile video calls.
Skype, the immensely popular VoIP service, experienced the first major outage in its history yesterday and even though this will surely hurt the company in the very short run, its excellent crisis management will reduce the outage’s impact to close to zero in the long run.
How Skype Got it Right
Almost immediately after the cascading failure on the Skype network took place, Skype posted an update to Twitter.
With this, customers got the reassurance that it wasn’t just their computers that were having issues and that Skype was aware of the problem. The team then continued to post updates to Twitter in the following hours. While these tweets kept users informed, they also didn’t promise anything the company couldn’t deliver. Things would have looked really bad for Skype if it announced that the network was recovering, yet none of its users were actually able to sign in yet.
Besides using Twitter, Skype also used its Facebook page to update users there. Facebook’s users were more than willing to interact with the brand there and some of the updates now have close to 2,000 comments.
In addition to all of this, Skype also updated its own blog regularly and posted more in-depth information there. Sadly, though, Skype did not put a big link to its blog on its homepage, so users who went to Skype.com first to get updates probably didn’t find the information they were looking for (Skype’s various blogs aren’t exactly easy to find from the homepage). Skype also doesn’t highlight comments on its blogs, which would have given users another point of contact with the company and the ability to interact with the company.
Finally, Skype’s CEO Tony Bates also recorded a short video, apologizing for the outage and explaining what happened and what the company plans to do to prevent similar issues in the future. For the most part, this video is effective, though it probably would’ve helped Skype’s cause if Bates actually noted that he is the company’s CEO at some point. In this video – and the accompanying blog post – Bates also promises credit vouchers for those paying users who were affected by the outage.
Overall, I was surprised by how effectively Skype managed its first major crisis. Over on the Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog, Jennifer Valentino-DeVries wonders how much this outage will hurt Skype. As much as people noticed this outage, I don’t think it will affect the company much. Skype’s already such an ingrained part of the Internet and people’s live that switching to an alternative isn’t an option for most people. It’s also worth noting that Skype Connect, its business-class service, wasn’t affected by this outage.