Skype beats mobile? Uhh. wrong technology

Dan Gillmor compares two different technologies. One is the wonderful VoIP by Skype versus a mobile phone. As an engineer that works in the telecommunications industry, I take GREAT OFFENSE to his comparison. agree with Dan that there needed more nuance in that post. Thank you for clarifying. Read on for my update.


The comparison is as wrong as comparing your Ferrari to the next guy’s Yugo. Both are automobiles, but they’re on performance levels that differ so greatly that they’re not even compared to each other.
Likewise, comparing VoIP to cellular is ridiculous. Sure the end-user seems the same thing, but the technology is vastly different.
Let’s look at what Skype does not have to deal with as opposed to cellular:

  • Skype does not need to pay for cellular spectrum.
  • Skype does not operate base stations or towers
  • Skype does not use the same vocoding.
  • Skype does not deal with pilot pollution or pilot surprise.
  • Skype does not deal with fickle RF optimization.
  • Skype has no hardware operating costs

The list goes on and on. Perhaps it’s better to compare Skype with Vonage, but wait… you still need Skype-out to gateway into landline world.
Cellular is a totally different creature to VoIP. There are more intricacies that I have to deal with so that the end-user doesn’t even realize the existence of the infrastructure. The late nights at BTS stations, driving back and forth between cellular sites to make sure that every sector was covered, going over quality numbers that could make you go insane, it’s all there.
In fact, not only do I have to deal with all of this, but I have to deal with the provider since we make equip them to do their business. This is the life of an RF engineer in the field. So while I do not speak for the rest of the telecommunications industry, I voice an opinion that rings true to many RF engineers’ ear… VoIP != Cellular.
UPDATE: Roger comments on Dan’s blog:

Skype is a form a VOICE COMMUNICATION OVER A NETWORK.
Mobile phones are also VOICE COMMUNICATION OVER A NETWORK.

It’s entirely appropriate to compare the two, especially when it comes to voice quality, and reliability of service, neither of which is particularly stellar in the mobile phone networks.

So while we’re on this analogy, let’s compare Macs with PCs since they’re both computers. How about dogs with cats under the pet category? I’m sure a lot of people would really be ticked off if I told them that a Protestant was the same as a Catholic since they are all Christians.
If it was that simple, then I better go trade in my Dell for that G5 since it’s “all the same”.
As far as voice quality goes, that’s a matter of cellular technology. CDMA is newer, and carries quality better than GSM which is more mature. Then there is a coverage issue. Ever wonder why your phone might work when it’s next to your head, but when it’s in the cupholder, it doesn’t? RF environment. Interference. Uh. No.
UPDATE 2: Dan updated his blog. Thank you.

But it’s scandalous that mobile phone service, here in the heart of Silicon Valley, remains outrageously flaky. The carriers would rather sell new subscriptions than offer reliable service. What’s more, they all suck, as far as I can tell.

Can’t help you there. I’m sure you realize that GSM is not the same as CDMA and applicable 800Mhz(CDMA) or 900Mhz (GSM) or 1900Mhz CDMA makes a whole lot of difference. I can tell you one thing. There are certain providers out there that are not concerned with coverage anymore as much as capacity. That particular provider also leads in the coverage base for CDMA. Being said, if you are using a GSM based phone, no wonder your coverage is shoddy. If not, I’d call and launch some major complaints if it’s in suburbia. If you live out in the country, then I have no sympathy. Can’t have all the technologies and live out in nice countryside too! *grin* I doubt that’s the case in Silicon Valley though.