Fon x (Skype + BT) = Bye Bye Vodafone?

Although Vodafone & co are still just about managing to add subscribers and revenue, the pace of growth in saturated markets such as the UK has slowed down to a mere trickle.

But what intrigues me the most is how the playing field will shape out over the next few years as innovative players in the wifi arena such as Fon, start to build a real free alternative to GSM and 3G networks for voice and data traffic.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s a big challenge, but if the rumours are true, and BT do get in bed with Fon, then in theory at least they could roll out a huge number of new fon hotspots (with over 3 million retail broadband customers).

In some respects, BT will be shooting themselves in the foot, as with all those fon hotspots about, why use BT’s fusion mobile when you could be using a skype wifi phone? Well the main problem for an all-skype solution is that you always need to be in range of a hotspot.

So where I think BT could be on to a winner is if they launch a hybrid fusion / skype phone that automatically switch between wifi and GSM networks for the skype and fusion accounts, effectively giving users both a skype and mobile number to be called on. If a potential caller is at their PC, or on another skype phone then they choose to route the call via skype, if not then they can fall back to the PSTN routed mobile number.

Of course BT will lose out on call revenue every time someone chooses to use skype over the PSTN, but BT should accept the fact that voice calls will eventually be free (ahead of their rivals) and just charge a flat rate for the convience of using skype on their hybrid network. Extra revenues could come through a tie up with Google to offer relevant geo located ads.

Whatever happens, the next few years will suck if you are a mobile operator who relies too heavily on voice revenues.

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