Saturday, June 04, 2005

File-Sharing Pioneer Turns to Free Internet Calling

There's a good article today in the Washington Post on Niklas Zennstrom and his company, Skype:

In just 18 months, Skype has become a global telephone firm with 40 million users, making it not just the fastest-growing telecommunications company in the world but one of the fastest-growing businesses of any kind.

By contrast, other voice-over-Internet providers, which charge a monthly fee and use different technology, have fewer than 3 million customers combined. Skype is acquiring as many new customers in a week as the best known voice-over-Internet company, Vonage Holdings Corp., has in total.

I'm not surprised Skype is successful. It's wonderful software. It just works, simply. I used it again last night to chat with a university student in Moscow. This is the future, without a doubt.

But I wonder if Skype will be the success of Internet phones. I've been using and evangelizing about Skype for more than year. Not a single one of my relatives will use it, and I know of only two people I work with (soon to be three) who are Skypers. Most of the time, I'm either talking to strangers or using the pay service SkypeOut, which allows me to call regular phones cheaply.

As with Mr. Zennstrom's previous venture, Kazaa, Skype appeals to the early adopters, the adventurous. For sure, there are a lot more of those kinds of people these days. But the trick will be getting more average people to try it. What may happen is that the big phone companies wake up, smell the roses, and start offering something vaguely similar. Which is my Mom & Dad more likely to use, something from AT&T or from a Swede with a couple hundred employees in London and Estonia? I hope they pick the Swede, because it would be good for the world, for capitalism and for the Internet. But I'm not holding out much hope.

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