logo-skype.jpgJonathan Christensen opened the eComm (emerging communications) conference at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., with the prediction that free Internet calling will make its way to mobile handsets and complete the revolution that began with computer calling.

“To me, this is the most interesting time for us,” said Christensen, general manager of audio and video at eBay’s Skype division. “The phone is dead.”
He didn’t, however, give an exact time for the death of the cell phone as we know it. What he calls the “mobile mess” stands in the way. That includes the problems related to the scarcity of wireless spectrum, which enables the creation of walled gardens, closed networks, and how wireless carriers lock consumers into their own phones. That’s going to change with mobile VOIP, he said.

Christensen walked through the evolution of voice-over-Internet-protocol (VOIP) and how it evolved into the runaway success of Skype, the free communications service that now has 276 million users. About 30 million registered users signed up in the fourth quarter of 2007.

Now incumbent phone companies are coming in to offer the same service and features, which serves only to accelerate the shift away from landlines, he said. Even Christensen’s own mother has gotten rid of her landline and is now relying on a mobile phone.

“This is another foot in the grave,” he said. “A new game is afoot.”

Not for his mom. For phones as we know them. Now Skype is rolling out into a variety of cordless phones, the Sony PlayStation Portable handheld gaming system, the Nokia N800 Internet tablet and a lot of other devices. And Skype itself is profitable, he said.

“We’ve entered the ear of rich PC-based Internet communications,” he said. “We have real-time video, data presence, text, wide-band audio, smart endpoints, an open platform and application innovation.”

But to make the conquest complete, VOIP has to open up the cell phone networks. Christensen said that he couldn’t disclose ongoing Skype projects on this front but he is excited about what’s coming. He noted that eBay’s priorities are focused more on enabling Skype to grow than to integrate Skype with eBay’s own services.

He believes that flat-rate pricing, the auction of the 700 megahertz wireless spectrum, and other events are opening up the mobile platform. It will be interesting to see how long it all takes to deliver us to the promised land. I’ll publish more in the next couple of days from the conference.