Interesting to look through Voda's new UK data plan pricing - up to 15MB per day for a capped £1, then £2/MB after that. Both the pricing structure and terms & conditions are cleverly (cynically?) crafted to mitigate the risk of any substitution by 3rd party services.
"The £1 per day charge and monthly data subscription cannot be used for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services such as Skype or Peer-to-Peer services (such as instant messenger services, text messaging clients or file sharing). These services will not count towards the £1 per day charge or monthly bundle, and are charged separately at £2 per MB, with a 5p minimum charge for each data session"
In principle it sounds eminently reasonable, and I've got to admire Vodafone's intention to protect its legacy revenue base while trying to compete & provide decent mobile Internet access. Unfortunately, as always, the devil's in the detail, and I suspect that the complexity & diversity of open IP applications is going to cause trouble, as per usual.
I'd love to know how the precise definitions & packet inspection mechanisms are going to work though, and what Voda intends to do about the possible "false negatives" and "false positives".
"VoIP services such as Skype" - so what does "such as" mean? Does it include web-based callback initiated via a data connection but the voice is still circuit-based(Rebtel etc)? Is a game with "embedded VoIP" included in this? Does downloading a spoken poem count as VoIP? Can I steganographically encode voice into a JPEG image? Is a VoIP softphone connecting to an IP-PBX actually a "VoIP service" or just a "VoIP application"?
....and does Vodafone want to set a precedent and start to charge for inbound VoIP calls, thus breaking the "calling party pays" paradigm? (Ironic, given Keith's Voda/Truphone analysis last week)
And what happens if a given software client - Yahoo Messenger, perhaps, or a game - is used for a mix of permitted and non-permitted usage? How do they separate it all out?
And what's a "session" - is that a technical term, eg as long as your phone is registered online with the SGSN, and does it change if the radio network puts your device into idle mode, or if you go out of coverage temporarily? Or does it refer to an application-level session like having a text messaging window open? Or is a single IM message or data flow a "session"?
How does anyone prove any of this? Especially if it's done inside a VPN tunnel? Or if it's all done in XML, with componentised data/software that could relate to 1001 different applications.
My expectation - this type of data contract has a lifespan of 12 months, maximum. Any of the questions above would probably cost Vodafone's customer services about £20 to answer properly, let alone managing the possible billing queries.
Of course the whole thing could just be FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). If they can dissuade 80% of people from even trying to do anything too edgy with a 3rd party app, then they may just shrug about the other 20%.
But given that plenty of operators don't care what you do with their data plans - 3, for example, or ONE in Austria, maybe the 80% will just churn instead.