I’m a heavy Skype user – it’s a stunningly effective tool that allows me to talk to or message people all across the globe for no cost (that last part is important – I’m known for being a scrooge!)

However Skype does not equal a phoneline. This was bought home to me the other day when I read that Skype has been ordered by the UK Office of Communications to allow emergency calls over their network.

Skype has refused – but before the incredulity starts, there are some good reasons for this. Skype came out strongly saying that;

At this time, Skype is not complying with Ofcom’s ruling, as we believe that it is not applicable to our software offering and in fact potentially harmful to public safety

The problem Skype has is that, unlike a landline or a mobile, Skype is not location aware – or to use an example I have Skype on my laptop – if I were to call an emergency number from it and then hang up – Skype has no way of knowing if I’m at home, at work or overseas – location awareness is a key requirement for emergency services call takers.

On their emergency services information page Skype says that;

An emergency call is perhaps the most important call you will ever make. We care about your safety and want to provide you with complete information about emergency services.

  • Skype is not a replacement for your landline or your mobile phone. Skype does not offer you the ability to call emergency services for help if you are in distress.
  • When calling 911 for help, mobile phones can identify your location within a 300 meter range and sometimes even closer. This enables emergency service operators to find you or call you back if the call drops. Landline phones will dispatch help to the address you provided when you subscribed to use the phone company’s services.
  • If you are a SkypePro or SkypeIn subscriber, using your mobile or landline phone for emergency calls is still required since Skype does not know your physical location and is unable to assist emergency services.

Ofcon knows this (or should) and needs to see why their order is in fact counter to public safety interests. The question is what should Skype do? And how much of a risk are these sorts of issues going to be going into the future.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

5 Comments
  • Conspiratorial:

    Given the numerous new location API’s and services around now which locate you through IP, cell/wifi access point etc etc who for a second thinks that Skype does not know where you are? They proved last week that their supposedly secure service a sham by having effectively a back door to the Chinese security services, presumably their tie up with the NSA would include location?

    Business opportunity:

    Skype has a peer to peer mesh network constantly pinging each other, and a application most people want on all the time they are at their computer. If anybody could create a solid location service to compete with Fire Eagle you’d think they could.

    Gwilym
    http://www.cooreea.com

  • @Gwilym

    Skype has the possibility of knowing where you are – but can’t guarantee it. Be a while before that conspiracy is probable. And wasn’t the China situation eavesdropping on content – big difference to knowing where you are.

    The only counter conspiracy I can offer is that skype is so threatening to the Telcos that they are pushing Ofcom to take on this measure. Interestingly our local equivalents require things like legal intercept on local VoIP services.

    I am of the view that fixed line telephony is turning into an insurance type service – you only buy it ‘just in case’.

    BTW your link doesn’t seem to take me anywhere useful Gwilym – a login page !

  • @Miki – re Cooreea – watch this space (actually watch the CloudAve space) announcement coming in the next few days

  • Hmm…

    I think (it was late 🙂 the point I was trying to make was that location is a hot sector right now. And a future required part of the webs evolution. And that Skype has a service which could extend to supplying this in a more reliable way possibly than other competing services due to the architecture of their network.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Er…give us a few days and Cooreea will go somewhere a little more illuminating..

  • Skype’s architecture *might* be able to provide location. It would have to learn it like a neural network. The tough bit is guarantee. ONly if skype can access the same information that Emergency Service bureaus can will it be possible. That would really freak the telcos out.

    I agree that location is hot – I am somewhat jaded of 10 years of people promising it to be the next big thing in mobile without any really business case or clear customer need. Maybe the web model could work better

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