The Vancouver-based company has released its free EQO Mobile Internet Phone Service for Skype, giving subscribers of the peer-to-peer phone service who own certain cell phones the ability to call other Skype subscribers from just about anywhere. The company promises to soon give a mobile voice to other IM communities.
A Vancouver, B.C.-based start-up want to keep online communities connected through the one wireless device people usually carry with them — the mobile phone.
On Tuesday, EQO revealed its first big step in that direction by announcing the availability of its free EQO Mobile Internet Phone Service for Skype(TM), which allows people to access Skype from a mobile phone.
While the three year-old company plans to expand beyond Skype users, it's clearly targeting a community that potentially numbers in the hundreds of millions — Skype's running download total is currently nearly 250 million — and EQO's logo echoes Skype's visual design as well.
But the company seeks to do more than just piggyback on Skype's success.
“Our core concept is bridging two archipelagos' the online community and the mobile community” explains Bell. “All the online communities are driving toward being realtime. We picked wireless phones because that's what people carry with them when they go.”
EQO's service is more than just 'find me, follow me,' explains Bell. It brings the whole structure of online communities to the mobile phone including managing availability and presence, viewing buddy status, caller ID, and the ability to accept and reject calls or return them later. EQO also lets users make Skype calls from mobile phones – which could save people bundles on long distance and roaming charges.
Control over the level and nature of contacts is one of the attractions of online communities — from general IM services like AOL to specialized communities like the business network LinkedIn and dating services like LavaLife. “People join communities to build context around themselves,” says Bell.
The power to accept — or refuse — communications is important.
“When you give me a phone number, it's irrevocable,” explains Bell. Online communities allow members let people control when and where they can be reached as well as their identities, he explains. Because members contact each other through the community without sharing phone numbers or even email addresses, they can stay connected while still preserving their privacy and controlling contacts.
The EQO architecture has two components: an application based on the mobile application development platform J2ME on the handset and a proprietary signaling network based on SIP standards to bridge between mobile phone system and Skype.
“The system is designed to work over any wireless data network and a huge multitude of phones,” says Bell. The system requires a device that conforms to MIDP 2.0 — a specification for using Java on embedded devices like cell phones and PDAs — and a Microsoft Windows PC running the Skype client.
The company estimates that there are more than 150 million mobile phones in the world with the ability to use its technology. Among the phones supported are Nokia models 3230, 3250, 6230, 6260, 6600, 6620, 6630, 6670, 6680, 6681, 6682, 7610, 8801, N70 and N91; and Sony-Ericsson models D750, J300a, K500, K506, K508, K600, K608, K750, V600, W550, W600i, W800, W900, Z520a and Z800.
EQO has aims to make use of the system easy. A user simply downloads a plug-in from the EQO website to the desktop. The application walks the user through the process of provisioning and automatically configuring the handset, which is done over the wireless network. Currently the application is available for Windows systems only, with Mac and Linux versions promised.
The three year-old company plans to extend its peer-to-peer communications to other online communities including MSN, AOL, Google, and Yahoo, according to Ian Bell, EQO V.P. of Marketing and Alliances.
“We're talking to providers now,” Bell says. “I think when they understand it to be a revenue generator and a lead-in, this becomes a strategic part of their wireless plans.”