Fring Loses Skype as Feud Escalates

fring loses skype as feud escalates logo  july 2010

There’s a battle brewing in the mobile messaging and VoIP market for mobile phones…and, for once, the controversy doesn’t surround the iPhone and AT&T. VoIP operator Skype has blocked third-party messaging application Fring from connecting to the Skype service, claiming misuse of Skype software and that Fring’s Skype functionality was “damaging our brand and reputation.” For its part, Fring characterizes Skype’s move as “cowardly,” finding irony in being blocked by Skype when Skype itself once carried the openness banner to the Federal Communications Commission, urging regulators to let any lawful, non-damaging device or application be used on wireless networks.

The Fring application acts as a front end for a variety of chat services, enabling users to send messages, engage in voice communications, and place video calls via a variety of services (including Twitter, Yahoo, AIM, Google Talk, Facebook, MSN, and Skype) without having to manage separate applications for each service—and does it all over a phone’s data connection (whether mobile or Wi-Fi) so the services don’t count against SMS totals or voice minutes. Fring recently introduced two-way video calling over both Wi-Fi and 3G connections to its application, and has been scaling up its capacity to meet demand for video services.

Now Fring claims that Skype is blocking their application’s access to the Skype network, meaning Fring users can no longer send messages, chat, or place video calls via Skype. Fring says the move is all about Skype shutting down a competitor: the company notes it has been connecting users to Skype for four years, but the block only happened when Fring rolled out video calling for the iPhone 4.

“We are disappointed that Skype, who once championed the cause of openness, is now attempting to muzzle competition, even to the detriment of its own users,” said Fring co-founder and CEO Avi Schecter, in a statement.

Skype says they aren’t blocking access to Fring, and claims Fring removed Skype functionality on its own accord. In a blog post, Skype’s Robert Miller claims Fring was “using Skype software in a way that [..] is a breach of Skype’s API Terms of Use and End User License Agreement.” Miller says Fring’s misuse of Skype software has damaged Skype’s brand and reputation with its customers. “On Friday, for example, Fring withdrew support for video calls over Skype on iOS 4 without warning, again damaging our brand and disappointing our customers, who have high expectations of the Skype experience.”

Without the technical details of how Fring may have been violating Skype terms of use, it’s impossible to know which side may be in the right here—if any. But one thing is certain: the scuffle has now entered the public arena as each company tries to persuade its customers it is doing the right thing.