Thursday, February 17, 2005

Flogging a Dead Angle

Unwired has killed its VoIP trials according to AustralianIT.

Why am I not surprised? Because pretty much the same news was given by the same source last December.

Here is the premise for yesterday's story in the Oz:

"WIRELESS internet provider Unwired has killed off a planned voice over IP (VoIP) offering for its Sydney broadband subscribers.

Announcing the company's financial results, Unwired chief executive David Spence said that it made more sense to provide a prioritised packet service for users of soft VoIP services such as Skype and Engin than to continuing developing its own application."

Last year, the Oz said:

"WIRELESS broadband provider Unwired has abandoned a public voice over IP (VoIP) trial that had been scheduled to take place this month."

The only difference is that this time, the company confirmed what the company didn't deny last year...

There is another angle to all this, though: VoIP was mostly an invention by the media anyhow.

When Unwired went live last June, its CEO told the assembled media that it would consider offering voice services - but he did not say "VoIP". What he said (I was there and I'm quoting from my own notes from the press conference) was this:

"Spence played down both the timing and the nature of the voice services, saying only that some kind of voice offering would be on offer by year-end. Voice, while bundled, would almost certainly be delivered on extra bandwidth rather than “riding” on a customer's existing service."

Unwired at that time seemed to have a better opinion of offering a competitive PSTN product than a VoIP service (no matter the underlying technology). It talked about trialling services, but it wasn't committed to those services being VoIP.

Since then, nearly every statement Unwired made about voice services tried to damp down the VoIP angle. Hence, in talking to ZDNet last year in October , VoIP was stamped on the story by the author, while David Spence only talked about "voice".

Earlier, in August, ZDNet took the VoIP angle this way:

"Spence said the company was currently in negotiations with local carriers to connect its wireless network with public telephone exchanges and acquiring number ranges to be allocated with the service."


Notice the reference to "number ranges"? That suggests a PSTN service to me, but the VoIP angle was irresistable even though the interviewee didn't say "VoIP".

VoIP, you see, doesn't have number ranges as such.

But the author has his eye fixed on the VoIP angle, and will reiterate it at every opportunity, force-fitting the angle to the quote.

To nutshell the problem: it no longer matters what underlying technology a carrier uses to deliver voice calls. If the phone can (a) take incoming calls from any phone, and (b) make outgoing calls to any phone, then it's a phone service. There's really only one country which is dead set on an artificial distinction between phone services based on transport - and that country is the US.

Unwired certainly would never have bothered much with trying to out-Skype Skype. Why would it? It needs to make money; a VoIP client doesn't generate revenue; and anyway, Skype users can call other Skype users on Unwired just as easily as on any other Internet service.

If Unwired was/is considering telephony, it wanted either a value-add to make its network more attractive (in which case a Skype lookalike is a dead-duck), or it wanted paid calls (even at a low rate), in which case a Skype lookalike is a dead duck.

The Optus balance sheet tells you what's attractive about voice: money. It's the economy, stupid...

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