In a previous post I've discussed my thoughts on how the announcement of Nokia to deeply integrate Skype into the N97 goes beyond the current 3rd party integration of VoIP, IM and presence. Mobile Network Operators of course would like to offer similar functionality and are thus not so happy about the competition. In addition, they are having a difficult time with it for the moment, as their competitive offer with the Rich Communication Suite (RCS), which is based on IMS, is still nowhere announced to actually make it into upcoming phone models.
When we look a bit into the future, however, I think network operators can make a compelling offer by combining a couple of elements which can't be matched easily by Internet based companies:
Embedding VoIP, IM and Presence in the Connected Home Network
In essence, the connected home network approach ties computers, TV, media storage, audio, etc. via Wi-Fi or Ethernet cable together and makes any content available on any other device. The crown is to also tie in the mobile phone / smartphone, which can then be used in cellular networks and via Wi-Fi or a Femtocell in the home network to offload traffic and to interact with the home network devices. Stack on that remote access to your data via cellular and you've got a truly connected home, a truly connected user and less dependency on data store in the cloud.
In this context, RCS makes a lot of sense and adds a lot of value. While roaming outside, RCS uses the cellular network for IM, presence, picture sharing, etc.. While at home, the Wi-Fi network takes over. The big benefit: Just one way (i.e. one phone number) under which you can be reached. The open point here is that I am not yet quite sure if the the mobile device can also to the IMS network via the users Wi-Fi home network or if a Femto is required for that. But at least with the Femto, that's something Internet based companies struggle with, there's always a 'media break' between the VoIP implementation and the default telephony stack in the mobile.
A big issue for RCS is how to create a critical mass so IM and presence. Here, I think it is necessary to have a gateway to other IM services such as Yahoo's or Microsoft's. An interesting approach, as it is not the Internet companies that go to operators but where operators go to Internet companies for the cooperation. It's been done before.
A lot of work ahead for operators. But I guess the embedded Skype client won't be that last word on the subject in its first incarnation, either.