How many smallish companies have this list of woes in twelve months and get away with it? Here’s a rundown of Skype’s year to bury.
It’s been slated for its secrecy and security , accused of violating GPL licensing, hit with worms , had to withdraw user numbers – much to their chagrin – had a major chunk of unexpected downtime . Companies still like to block it because of most of the above reasons but also because police forces are having problems monitoring it when it does fire up.
Luckily, it’s a subsidiary of dozing giant eBay and can ride out this sort of negative vibe almost indefinitely. Indeed, in a strange way, some of it might be helping to establish what it does as well as any hollow but glowing customer endorsements. Skype will remain unpopular in some quarters in 2008, but viral for it.
Fellow VoIP company, Vonage, by contrast, can’t count its travails in the same light. Innovative as it’s been, it can’t seem to stay out of its lawyer’s office. Having spent most of 2007 being sued nearly out existence by Verizon, Sprint and AT&T, it is now up against telco equipment giant Nortel.
On the face of it, the latest suit is a defensive one, and is in response to a suit filed against the vendor by Vonage itself in August. Nortel has countered by claiming that Vonage is violating 12 of its patents which relate to 911 emergency and 411 directory calling in the US, critical to Vonage’s operation. Without these capabilities – hitherto a major weakness of the VoIP world – Vonage could be out of business.
It’s tricky to judge the legal rights and wrongs of the cases filed by any of these cases, but the fact that the three original suits were filed by established telecoms players with every reason to hate and fear the upstart’s Voice-over-IP business model isn’t in my view entirely coincidence. The new suit is by the largest supplier to these networks, with every reason to hate it almost as much.
So, that’s one proprietary VoIP outfit that benefits from bad publicity (to some extent), and another that doesn’t.
What’s odd is that the telecoms companies – including useless UK broadband providers - against which the two are in their different ways side by side with one another are just as useless and moribund as they were last year, and the year before, and the year before that. But expectations are already so low that nobody complains about them anymore. They move on, rather than go insane. Mobile companies have had their exorbitant roaming charges clipped by the EU is just about the only reverse that comes to mind.
They also use the big, stupid but relatively reliable networks built and owned by their shareholders. That’s a point anybody thinking of setting up a VoIP voice rival to their companies should bear in mind. No matter how hard the incumbents will fight you in court, it’s the users that count on the Internet, and they are harder to convince than IP judges and courts.