Skype for iPhone available everywhere but Canada

Skype Technologies S.A. will make its highly anticipated debut on the Apple Inc. iPhone Tuesday, but Canadian users will be one of the only countries in the world left shut out.

“There is a patent-license issue in Canada which prevents us from making Skype available on the iPhone,” Chaim Haas, a spokesperson on behalf of Skype, told ComputerWorld Canada in an e-mail.

But while the new app will surely be a hit with consumers worldwide, industry analysts don’t expect to see the same enthusiasm among enterprise IT departments – which means Canadian businesses won’t be missing much.

The free Skype iPhone app will allow non-Canadian users to make Skype-to-Skype calls at no cost, call landlines or non-Skype cell phones at a reduced rate, and use the tool’s instant messaging service.

A BlackBerry application of the Web-based phone service is expected in May, but Canada will again be missing out, as important features such as Skype Out or Skype-to-Skype calls will be absent. However, Canadian BlackBerry users will be able to use the application to receive calls from other Skype users and for instant messaging services.

Amit Kaminer, a telecom analyst at the SeaBoard Group’s Toronto office, said the new Skype for iPhone application would only have appealed to the small business community anyway, such as those with a tiny pool of travelling workers. However, missing features such as teleconferencing, file transfer and voice mail capabilities would have forced even these users to wait for a future release, he said.

“Another drawback is that the iPhone cannot do multi-tasking,” Kaminer said. Because applications like Skype can not run in the background, he explained, it will take away from the overall experience.

Kaminer suspects that users will have to be actively using the application to receive notifications that their friends or co-workers are logging online or if they have an incoming call.

Mark Tauschek, senior research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., agreed that the solution needs work and added that it would be nearly impossible to manage its use at the enterprise level, especially when running on an iPhone rather than the future BlackBerry version.

“Travelling workers will often have a SIP-based client that they can connect to their own IP telephony infrastructure with,” he added. “This (Skype app) doesn’t add much, other than a little bit of a management pain in the neck.”

Small businesses currently using Skype on their desktops will probably be fine with it, Tauschek said. The mobile app is going to use the same peering network and the same encryption technology that customers have come to expect.

“But because of the way the peering network works, your voice stream will go through the node of some guy sitting on a Rogers network in his basement, so that’s a little disconcerting for large enterprises,” he added.

If anything, Tauschek said, most enterprises will be more concerned with blocking the app, as opposed to letting it be freely used by employees. He said enterprises might consider forcing VPN connectivity through the enterprise and blocking Skype via Web content filtering.

“I can’t think of one company that I’ve spoken to that actually forces VPN connectivity from their mobile phones, but it could be a good idea to consider,” Tauschek said.

“Mobile VPNs are getting better at this, but the problem has been in managing, deploying and forcing the VPN connection. It basically has to be automated, so anytime you’re connected to the carrier network or a Wi-Fi network, the VPN connection is going to get nailed up and stay nailed up.”

Additionally, those users looking to use the app on a 3G network will be out of luck, as it is unsupported in this version.

But while many pundits are touting the lack of 3G network support as a significant drawback for the application, Steve Blood, a Barcelona-based networking and communications analyst at Gartner Research Inc., downplayed this missing feature.

“VoIP over 3G is total hype,” he said. “The 3G channel is not designed to carry voice and the quality is horrible. Added to that, it’s not going to be ‘free’ as most data accounts have acceptable usage policies and VoIP will eat into that very quickly.”

Given that 3G voice accounts include bundles of minutes free of charge, it makes sense to use that channel for voice, he added.

As for the Skype app itself, Blood said he remains skeptical about using VoIP on mobile phones because of the added costs Wi-Fi use will bring to travelling workers.

“In the majority of places, you have to pay for access,” he said. “For non-technical travelling workers, this is not a trivial task, and for those that have Wi-Fi accounts, you’ll find the roaming costs can actually be higher than making a call using the mobile phone on a roaming tariff.”

Blood added that while the Skype for iPhone and BlackBerry applications will give travelling employees another option for low-cost or free long-distance calling, businesses should carefully consider the potential savings before diving in with the app.

For instance, the presence application could be very useful, he said, but would likely be expensive when travelling outside data zones.

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