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Does Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype change anything?

So Microsoft has acquired Skype for $8.5 billion.  Whew!  It’s a breathtaking sum, especially for a company who’s bread and butter is the prepaid telecom business.

Of all those rumoured to have been in the hunt for Skype, however, Microsoft was the suitor most able to take advantage of Skype’s network, ecosystem, and technology.  Their investments in mobile, consumer, and enterprise communications are a quick answer to Skype’s ambitions in the same markets.   Google, Facebook, et al simply didn’t have the breadth of offerings to warrant paying the price that Microsoft was willing.

So how does this change things?

Microsoft has now become the worlds largest carrier of international long distance minutes.  What will this do to the occasionally fractious relationships that Microsoft has with incumbent telecom?  Will national carriers view the disintermediation of the long distance business at Microsoft’s hands positively or negatively?  Will the combined companies simply continue on Skype’s trajectory toward the eradication of that business, or will Microsoft try to finesse this for the sake of their carrier relationships?  My guess is they’ll continue on Skype’s trajectory.

One of Apple’s biggest advantages in the market – Facetime – becomes a lot less significant.  Microsoft now has a tool to compete against it, plus hundreds of millions of users.  Moreover, there still isn’t a Facetime for Windows desktops, but Skype exists on both the Mac and Windows.   And, Skype does multi-party video.  Advantage Microsoft!

And what of the other handset manufacturers that Skype enjoys relationships with? Will Skype continue to support Apple and Google handsets, or will there be pressure from within Microsoft to advantage Windows Phone 7 by cutting off support for competing vendors?  My prediction – Microsoft will treat Skype as a platform component.  Their view of the “platform” now extends to the cloud and all kinds of non-Windows devices.  For that reason, they’ll try to use the popularity of Skype as a means to establish beachheads on competitors handsets.

And how will the other handset platform makers respond?  While Apple and Google have business models predicated on taking power from the carriers, RIM has taken the opposite tack preferring to ally with these powerful entities.  Apple and Google have just seen Microsoft accelerate directly at their businesses.  I suspect that RIM, however, will seek to entrench itself even more firmly in its carrier channel.  The mere fact that RIM never permitted a 3G version of Skype on any of its handsets tells you everything that you need to know.

Press conference at 11.  Let’s see what new details are revealed then.

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