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WiFi Phones Coming Into Vogue

The New York Times has an extensive article about WiFi phones going head to head with the cellular carriers coming into vogue, quoting among others pal Steve Howe who was one of the featured speakers on my panel at the MuniWireless conference this past June on this very subject.

In addition to talking about the WiFi only opportunity we also took a different tact, and discussed how WiFi phones could co-exist in a dual mode handset world. This approach, called Fixed Mobile Convergence, is what is being explored by the likes of T-Mobile, and other carriers here in USA as the NY Times story reports, as well as in other parts of the world.

The idea of a single dual mode device for the mobile carriers could help stave off attrition from their customer ranks, but I see a whole other market building, and it appears from reading Steve Howe's comments that an over the top, and out of the box play is coming. Let me connect the dots.

If you add in the Earthlink/Covad relationship and remember NextWeb an early stage WiMax company was bought by Covad in the past twelve months, it points to a deep desire to break from the dependency on the in the ground telco connectivity.

Then there is the almost maverick like play by Metro Fi with AT&T (and I hear possibly Cisco) that was not blessed by AT&T's Mothership in San Antonio officially yet, and instead came out of the AT&T Enterprise group as a counter to the looming threats from Covad and Sprint in the WiMax to WiFi delivery space.

Side-note--A quick search of the AT&T and MetroFi web sites yields no official announcement from either party, lending further credibility to the whisper in my ear told to me earlier this week that the relationship was not all that it may appear to be just yet (or ever).

One other note, it seems Om Malik has found out that Netgear lost their period of exclusivity with Skype and what's more, there have been delays in getting the Skype only WiFi handset out to market.

More from Jim Courtney over at Skype Journal.

From the start I've been very skeptical and distrustful of the entire Skype/Netgear relationship and felt the relationship was flawed from the very beginning, as the device design certified by Skype excluded the ability to work with SkypeZone beta partners Boingo and The Cloud locations, which would have made it a real threat to the carriers instantly.

This move had to rankle a few folks at Boingo and The Cloud I bet, especially with Skype investing in FON.

My guess is that both Boingo and The Cloud have other ideas and related to this, that everyone in the wireless space, mobile operators and new Muni carriers are also looking at how to have a different, and better offering.