How Facebook and Skype Could Become a 21st Century Telco

Last Updated Sep 30, 2010 10:52 AM EDT

Plenty of tech companies are making the leap into the business of mobile telephones, but so far that's mostly involved partnering with one of the giant carriers like Verizon (VZ) or At&T (ATT). But the news that Facebook and Skype are partnering on communications highlights the possibility of a new future, in which web-only services emerge as a powerful new brand of telco.

Kara Swisher broke the news about Facebook and Skype in All Things D yesterday morning. She reported that the pair is planning deep integration with SMS, vice chat and Facebook Connect. This comes just a week after it was reported that Facebook is secretly working on its own mobile operating system and possibly a phone. Clearly the social networking giant is eager to expand into communications.

I argued that Facebook should resist the temptation to build its own phone. That's an expensive and difficult process that would take it far outside its expertise in software. But an integration with Skype is another story. Integrating Skype would allow Facebook to capture a percentage of mobile voice calls without delving into hardware at all.

When I bought my new Android phone it automatically synced with my Gmail and Facebook accounts in order to add people to my contact list. Of my roughly 200 contacts, more than one third are simply Facebook friends for whom I have no cell phone number. There have been numerous occasions when I was frustrated with the realization that I couldn't call these folks. The integration with Skype could change all that.

The two services have over 1 billion users combined, and while there is doubtless considerable overlap in those numbers, it's still a very impressive base. If launching a phone really is one of Facebook's goals, a partnership with Skype offers the potential for a disruptive, industry changing approach to the product. Imagine a dense urban center ten years from now where WiFi is a constant in homes, offices and public transportation. Facebook and Skype could potentially offer a mobile device with no contract and no carrier, powered only by your social network and voice over internet calling.

Image from Lauren Thought
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  • Ben Popper

    Ben Popper writes at the intersection of culture and technology. His work has been published in the NY Times, Washington Post, Fast Company, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic and many others. He lives at www.benpopper.com.