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Most UK Mobile Broadband Users Could Swap Providers over Skype Blocks

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012 (8:59 am) - Score 1,823

A new study by Rebtel, which claims to be the largest independent VoIP (Voice-over-IP) provider after Skype, has found that almost 60% of UK Smartphone users would be prepared to switch Mobile Broadband networks if operators continue to impose traffic blocks or slow down access to online voice calling and other internet streaming services.

Rebtel appears to echo fears from the Internet Telephony Services Providers’ Association (ITSPA), which earlier this year criticized three of the country’s five Mobile Network Operators (Vodafone , T-Mobile and Orange UK) for using Terms and Conditions (T&C) that “prohibit the use of VoIP and other streaming services in a substantial number of their tariffs” (original news).

The consumer research was conducted by Opinion Matters and surveyed 1,009 Smartphone users in the UK. It found that over half were unaware that operators block or limit access to services like Skype and just 8% felt mobile operators had a right to impose such restrictions. Meanwhile 71% of people claimed their operator had failed to communicate this practice to them formally or in a way that they understood.

Andreas Bernstrom, CEO of Rebtel, said:

We keep a close eye on the factors that prevent us from delivering a fast and quality calling service to our customers.

Traffic shaping is a much debated topic within the telecommunications industry and it has been brought to the attention of Berec (Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications) who are investigating this further to understand the extent of traffic management practices and how it affects consumers’ use of services. Meanwhile, consumers are unaware of how operators are pulling the strings and are affecting how they use Skype, Rebtel or other over the top services such as WhatsApp messaging service.”

Mobile operators are perhaps understandably keen to defend their lucrative voice call revenues from harm, which gives many of them a commercial incentive to clamp down on over-the-top services like Skype (seen as a rival). This also slips into the tricky debate surrounding Net Neutrality (the principal of treating all internet traffic as equal) and whether or not the UK / EU governments need to impose tougher regulation to ensure non-discrimination.

ITSPA’s review ultimately concluded that it was “reasonable” for customers buying Mobile Broadband data bundles to “expect to be able to use them for low speed  (<100kbps) streaming services”, at least unless they are “clearly excluded” at point of sale. Mobile operators could definitely do more to improve their communication as far too many restrictions continue to remain confined inside vague small print.

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