EBay Hangs Up on Skype… But Who Will Call Next?

EBay purchased Skype in 2005 because it had the resources to do so.  At the time the deal was announced, Jonathan Spira wrote that “the purchase of Skype serves notice to the telecommunications industry that voice is merely another service delivered in a data setting.”

Since then, Skype has indeed become a telecommunications giant, albeit one that didn’t seem to have any of the promised synergies with its new parent.  This week, after months of speculation on the company’s future, eBay announced that it will sell Skype via an IPO in 2010.

Before that happens, Skype will have to resolve an intellectual property dispute with Skype founds Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis.  Joltid, a company they founded, retained ownership of the peer-to-peer technology Skype uses and this was licensed back to eBay.  Recently, Joltid said that eBay was in breach of their agreement and eBay has asked a U.K. court to intercede.

The 2010 date gives eBay lots of time to continue to shop the company.  Negotiations with Skype founds Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis reportedly fell through but, absent the founders’ involvement, does it still make sense for Skype to operate as an independent company?  After all, how extensible – or profitable -  is Skype’s most-used feature: free calls to other Skype users.  The company has over 400 million of them (the figure was 405 million at the close of 2008) and revenue for the year was up an impressive 44%.   In addition, Skype is first starting to explore the business market – and that market is willing to pay for certain services.

The list of potential buyers most frequently mentioned is noticeable for an absence of telecommunications companies such as Deutsche Telekom, AT&T, Verizon, and BT.  Any one of these could build an instant bridge to the future of telephony by acquiring the company.  We’ll find out which telecoms company has a true vision for the future when we see an announcement of Skype’s sale in the next three to six months.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

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