Skype "could have saved London numbers"

23 Nov 2007

Skype could have kept the London numbers it stripped from customers this week for only a few pounds per month, according to telecoms supplier

Internet telephony firm Skype could have kept the London numbers it stripped from customers this week for only a modest fee.

Yesterday, we revealed how the company had angered hundreds of its customers by suddenly withdrawing their 0207 numbers. Business customers were given just a month's notice, leaving many with thousands of pounds worth of printed advertising and stationery that was now effectively useless.

In a company statement, Skype said that it had "to return some of the 0207 SkypeIn numbers to one of our suppliers of London numbers".

However, the chief executive of the supplier in question, GCI Telecom, has told PC Pro the company could have retained the numbers for only a few pounds per month, per line.

GCI's Don McQueen says a rush from VoIP companies for the highly-desirable 0207 numbers has led to increased charges across the board. "Everyone wants to put a central London number on their business card - it has a good brand," says McQueen. "VoIP carriers are all racing to get to them."

McQueen claims that Skype were previously being charged "a very, very small management fee" for the 0207 numbers, and that GCI offered to renew Skype's rights to the numbers for a modest fee. He says the wholesale price would have "been significantly less" than the £4 per month his company charges for 0207 VoIP numbers, but Skype refused to meet the demands. "Negotations broke down in early November," McQueen reveals.

Breaking even

Skype customers may be dismayed to learn that the company wouldn't pay the modest sum to retain their lines. Skype charges £10 per quarter or £35 per year for its SkypeIn numbers, which means the company probably could still have broken even on the line rental, while still earning revenue from call charges.

SkypeIn customer, Rob Lee, has told PC Pro the sudden withdrawal of his line will cost him thousands of pounds. "I've got a 3,000 letter mail shot all stamped and ready to to roll with the wrong phone number printed on it," the IT consultant says.

He's furious at Skype's tactics. "It's marketed as a business service without the securities businesses would expect," he says. "Having gone through the contract, Skype can turn any number off with one month's notice."

Skype refused to discuss why it wouldn't meet the GCI fee or why it hadn't informed customers sooner. Instead, the company pointed us to a blog posting, which claims: "We spent months in discussions with a telecoms supplier to see if we could keep the SkypeIn numbers we rented from them, confident that the issue could be resolved. Hence the somewhat late notice to our users - we never thought things would get this far, given the time and effort put into resolving the situation.

"We're very sorry for the trouble and (perfectly justified) swearing that this has caused. Our people are doing their best to make sure that these kinds of unpleasant surprises won't happen again."

GCI Telecom says customers wishing to retain their old numbers should email sales@geonum.co.uk. GCI says the numbers can be used with its own VoIP service for £4 per month, or forwarded to a regular landline, although the latter option means customers will have to pay for inbound calls.

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