Skype is finally releasing a downloadable application for Apple's popular iPhone in Canada, five months after doing so everywhere else.
The company, which was spun off last week by eBay to a group of investors in a $2-billion US deal, is making the app available on Tuesday. Iphone and iPod Touch owners will be able to download it to their device for free, whereupon they can use Skype's internet-based calling service.
As elsewhere, Skype's calling features will only work when the iPhone or iPod is connected to the internet through a Wi-Fi wireless network. Wireless carriers have so far prohibited the application from using the iPhone's cellular internet connection to make calls, because doing so means customers could drop their voice plans altogether.
Tom Yeung, Skype's director of market development for the Americas, said it is inevitable that all voice calls will eventually become simple data transmitted over the internet.
"This isn't just Skype's position. Everybody in the industry knows that networks are going [internet]-based. The only thing that nobody can predict is timing," he said. "Certain markets may take longer, certain markets may go faster."
Licensing issue caused delay
Skype's Canadian iPhone delay was the result of a licensing issue over how it plays sound. The application has already been available for other mobile phones, including those running Microsoft Windows, for some time.
A territorial restriction on an audio codec — a program for compressing data used specifically by the iPhone — was the sticking point that prevented Skype from rolling out to Canadians in March, at the same time as the rest of the world, Yeung said.
"Unfortunately Canada was not part of the allowed geography at the time, but that's been taken care of," he said.
Skype was previously available to enterprising Canadians who registered U.S.-based iTunes accounts with Apple, although the process was somewhat complicated.
"Our goal is to make it as widely available as possible," Yeung said. "I know from friends in Canada that they have a lot of ways to get American applications, so I don't want to comment on whether that's the right way of doing that."
Another feature from the company, SkypeIn — which assigns users a phone number so that they can take incoming calls — is still not available in Canada. Company executives told CBC News in early 2008 that the service would be rolled out within a year, but it has still not launched here.
Part of the holdup is a regulation that requires telephone providers to support e-911 service, or "enhanced" 911, which allows emergency responders to locate the caller. Skype does not yet offer e-911.
"It's one product that we're constantly trying to widen with distribution. Canada happens to have more complex laws and regulations," Yeung said. "We're still working on it."