Skype and Fring Go to War Over VOiP Video Calls

So the big drama award this week really has to go to Fring and Skype. Just as Fring launched their video calling app to compete with the iPhone 4 FaceTime app, the company got into a blog-war of words with Skype over alleged blocking of service…..

VoIP giant Skype has pulled all support for peer-to-peer VoIP client Fring in a bitter dispute that has been waged almost entirely out in the open.

Fring, which offers cross-platform video-calling on mobile phones integrating a variety of VoIP services, Skype included, recently launched its iPhone 4 app, giving owners of the Apple phone an alternative to the handset maker’s own software, which uses Wi-Fi.

But with the sudden surge in demand that followed the availability of the Fring iOS 4 app, the company’s network was unable to cope, and on Friday afternoon the service decided to temporarily block Skype users trying to access the service using the Skype API while it addressed the issue.

Fring is a relatively small player when compared to Skype, but it has been successful in large part because the service is interoperable with other VOiP services, including GoogleTalk, SIP and Skype. The fact that you can make Fring-to-Skype calls within the Fring app has been a real boon for platforms that either have limited Skype support or for users who want to take advantage of some of Fring’s other features.

The dispute quickly moved to the companies’ respective blogs, with Fring’s chief executive Avi Schechter labelling Skype’s behaviour as “cowardly” and Skype’s vice president, legal, Robert Miller, claiming Fring was using its software incorrectly and damaging its reputation.

Last week, Fring introduced two-way video calling support for the iPhone 4 over Wi-Fi or 3G. This was a big hit. It was such a big hit, Fring had to turn off Skype support over the weekend in order to deal with the onslaught of users wanting to make video-to-video calls.

The company has now expanded its capacity and says it wants to turn Skype support back on. According to Fring’s official statement, Skype is refusing to let them do so.On its blog, Fring calls Skype “cowards” and says it is “afraid of open mobile communication.”

However, there are two sides to every story and in this case, Skype has already responded. In direct contradiction to what Fring has said in its public statements, Skype says that the allegations that Skype has blocked Fring’s access to its network are untrue.Skype goes on to say that Fring has been in breach of its API Terms of Use and End User License agreements. It also says that Fring’s misuse has been “increasingly damaging our brand and reputation with our customers.”Amazingly, Skype cites the fact that Fring had to temporarily shut down Skype access due to high call load as an example of this sort of damage.While Skype claims it has not blocked Fring’s access to its services, it also makes it very clear that, as a company, Skype is unhappy with the current situation.

Skype recently signed a deal with Verizon that, among other things, brought an official Skype application to Android users who are on the Verizon network. However, Skype doesn’t have an app available for other Android users, which makes options for HTC EVO 4G users more costly and limited.On the iPhone side, Skype only recently added 3G calling support and that feature will eventually come at a price.Skype has a huge infrastructure and user base, but on the mobile front it’s falling behind. Frankly, many Fring users only use the service because it’s the best way they can connect with their Skype contacts on their mobile handsets. If Skype would support more devices and carriers, or at least offer some official timeline for video call support, its users wouldn’t have to look at other options.

Regardless of who is to blame for the current situation, Skype and Fring’s pettiness means that no one gets to benefit from multi-device video calling across the largest VOiP network in the world. What a shame.


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