I gave a presentation yesterday morning at a press launch of VoIP provider fring's new update. For those not aware of the company, it's a specialist provider of mobile IM and VoIP software. Unlike some of its peers, it offers both communications within its own community of users and allows users to exploit it as a proxy for their other PC-based VoIP/IM/social-network accounts like Skype, MSN, Twitter & ICQ - or a whole range of other SIP-VoIP providers.
So the handset client essentially lets people "mobilise" & combine their existing favourite online services in a single piece of software. When you consider that many people use 4, 5 or 10+ Internet communications tools, it's clearly not realistic to have separate mobile clients for each of them running simultaneously on a smartphone. And not many operators support a wide range of them (although 3 isn't bad) through their own embedded client suites or browsers.
(why do people use multiple platforms? subtle differences in capabilities & user behavioural inertia. My Yahoo IM contacts are different from my Skype contacts, and different from my Facebook friends. I'll use all of them simultaneously for subtly different types of interaction with different groups of people. Skype tends to be "friendly" work contacts for me, for example. I'm not unusual in this - many people are promiscuous in their IM/VoIP/email/social-networking choices).
Apparently the typical fring use case on mobile is fairly similar to many users' experience of Skype on a PC - a short IM session, which possibly then gets upgraded to a VoIP call.
The interesting thing is that fring can work over 3G, WiFi or even 2.5G (GPRS/EDGE). At a conference I attended last October, a spokesman said that the mix of traffic was roughly split 33/33/33 between 2G/3G/WiFi. Apparently the mix has subsequently shifted somewhat towards 3G, thanks to the rollout of HSDPA phones and the advent of flatrate data plans.
But what surprised me was the rate the company yesterday claimed to be signing up new users - somewhere above 100k per month recently from a diverse range of countries. While I'd guess that not all of these become regular active users, and some probably just use WiFi rather than 3G, that suggests a significant active user base of fully-independent VoIPo3G - made more impressive as the company doesn't have a PC client to exploit the growth of 3G USB modems.
In fact, adding together all existing active VoIPo3G users with independent "challenger" providers - fring, Truphone, Skype, Yeigo and others, across both phones & 3G-connected PCs - I suspect the total is now comparable to that of operator UMA-based VoWLAN subscribers. (although less than the total # of VoWLAN users including non-UMA variants).