The internet telephony (VoIP) service Skype allows users to make telephone calls for free, or at least significantly more cheaply than traditional telephone providers. There have been several unofficial applications for mobile devices in use for some time, but the first official iPhone application for the service launched on Tuesday – free of charge – to a host of excited media chatter.
"Skype software for the iPhone has been the number one request among our users," Scott Durchslag, Skype's Chief Operating Officer said in a statement.
But unfortunately for hopeful iPhone users in Germany, having the little blue “S” icon on their screens won't get them any closer to affordable international calls or a quick instant message with friends, because T-Mobile, the exclusive operator for iPhones in Germany, is physically and contractually blocking its use.
“It is clearly stated in our customer contracts that such services may not be used,” T-Mobile spokesperson Alexander von Schmettow told The Local. “There are two reasons for this – because the high level of traffic would hinder our network performance, and because if the Skype programme didn't work properly, customers would make us responsible for it.”
The Financial Times Deutschland on Tuesday alleged that the company was blocking the software for fear of lost revenue, but Schmettow said Skype was “no threat” to T-Mobile, adding that they had already blocked such software for almost two years.
There are signs that mobile phone manufacturers may embrace the new technology even as service providers fight it, though, the paper said. A February agreement between Skype and Finnish company Nokia established plans to deliver future phones with Skype software already installed, and Skype software for Blackberries should be available by May.
“The network providers are becoming more and more open,” Skype's Scott Durchslag told the paper.
But this acceptance comes with some reluctance. AT&T in the United States is prepared to allow the use of Skype software on iPhones when calls are made via wireless internet hotspots. O2, the only UK service provider with rights to the iPhone has also chosen to give its customers access to the new application, according to daily The Times on Tuesday.
“We understand [Skype] have designed this to work solely over Wi-Fi. We have not blocked the application and, if it is available in the App Store, it will be available to our customers,” a spokesperson told the paper.
This makes more sense for these companies because of the way the networks are structured in their countries, but not in Germany, Schmettow told The Local, adding that the company would not rule out allowing the application in the future.
But experts say blocking tech-savvy Skypers won't be easy, because web users are perpetually finding ways around restrictions.
“This is true,” Schmettow said. “But those who violate their contracts can expect to have them cancelled. It's the same with any contract. If you rent a no-pets apartment and expect no one to notice your little dog, you can't be surprised when your landlord comes knocking.”
But one Berlin iPhone user, who wished to stay anonymous to avoid T-Mobile vengeance, said he'd had no trouble using the new app, at least on his WiFi connection, and was thrilled at the possibilities for saving money on calls.
"I haven't tried it on the Edge network and probably won't because it is so slow," he said. "But it works fine on WiFi. The threat is completely empty because downloading the app from Apple is nothing to do with Telekom. I think if they had a case, they could have made Apple block the download from the German iTunes store, which they haven't done."