At the end of 2008 there were 415 million broadband subscribers world-wide, and Skype claimed 405 million subscribers after a 47% year-on-year growth. So Skype must be topping out, right?
Perhaps not. At the end of 2008 there were 4 billion mobile phone users. Ten times as many as fixed broadband, and four times as many as PCs. Skype just announced that Nokia will be putting Skype on some of its high end phones. If the idea spreads Skype will still have plenty of room to grow.
But there is bigger news hidden here. Video telephony has been just around the corner for about 50 years. This announcement may soon make it commonplace.
I have written before about Skype sound quality, but Skype’s video capabilities also kick the competition. My children make regular intercontinental Skype video calls to their grandmother, and both the sound and video quality are generally excellent now that I have discarded my Linksys router and got an Apple Airport Extreme. If the numbers don’t convince you that Skype video calling is perfectly mainstream, perhaps Oprah will.
The phone mentioned by Nokia as the first to have Skype built in is the N97. Almost all of Nokia’s high end smart phones (the Eseries and Nseries) have Wi-Fi, and many (including the N97) have a “secondary camera” on the same side as the screen for use in video calling. Video calling is supported by the SIP soft-phone software that Nokia puts in almost all these phones, but SIP VoIP is nowhere compared to Skype. So the news that Nokia will be loading Skype onto some of these phones is tantalizing. The existing base of Skype users on PCs will bestow a massive network effect on Skype video calls from Nokia handsets.
The Wi-Fi aspect will help users to get around the carriers’ resistance, which in any case may be waning if the Skype interview linked above is correct.