In response to the growing VoIP industry in the UK, Ofcom have released a new consultation. This investigates whether it should mandate certain types of VoIP provider to carry 999 calls. this could have far reaching impacts on a number of providers, but does it mean the end for Skype?

I’ve been reading the document for Inuk since not only does this affect us but I also want to submit a response to it to make sure that our views are heard. The report has some astounding figures. Some 10% of the UK population currently have a VoIP service – a number which has double in the past 12 months and bodes well for us. This a booming market and this is in part why Ofcom wants to bring in these changes.

In their survey, Ofcom discovered that of those who have a VoIP service of some sort, some 76% of all respondents were confused about whether the service offered access to 999 (or 112) services – an appalling figure. Ofcom themselves in the last study left the industry to sort itself out over this and set out some guidelines. I think that there are a few problems here. Firstly, there’s only one incentive for VoIP providers to fork out and provide 999 services – number portability. Ofcom won’t let you participate in number portability unless you offer 999. Number portability allows consumers to take their number with them when changing providers and is broadly seen as one of the key features of the UK telecoms industry.

Secondly, 999 access is one of the ‘gating criteria’ defined by Ofcom. These four features separate the wheat from the chaff – they are the minimum requirement for a provider wishing to offer a Publically Accessible Telephone Service (PATS), the type of provider with the greatest power. Once you are a PATS provider, however, there are many things that you are required to do to provide a service that could potentially cost a fair amount. Although in their recent document, Ofcom has evaluated the impact on potential loss of life due to this situation against the potential costs of becoming a PATS provider and found that the benefits far outweighed the drawbacks, the drawbacks are all direct costs to the providers, whereas the benefits are all based on the saving of lives. As a result, providers see a direct cost but no direct benefit only indirect benefit.

The problem is that some of these conditions that you have to meet as a PATS mean a lot of work and money – and that would necessitate a fairly serious change in the way that Skype operates. In fact, it’s arguable that Skype cannot meet at least one of the general conditions because of the way it uses P2P technology. So is this the end?

Probably not, however this ruling is going to hit Skype quite hard. I can’t see them offering 999 services – it’s too much work and money for them to invest. However it does mean that they’ll have to change their business model in the UK. It’s going to be a difficult time for them, so watch this space.

And our platform? Well, I predicted that this was going to happen back in March when I composed a report internally. As a result, we’re already geared up for this. Our product will launch in September with the capability to call 999 and we’ll be meeting all of the General Conditions set by Ofcom. I’m pretty proud of that fact – it means that we’ve got a service you can compare with the likes of BT. A whole different league to Skype.

2 Responses to “Just so much Skype?”

  1. Interesting article. Glad to hear that you’re now working at a place where your voice is heard. How does that feel?

    Best regards,