What are Microsoft up to with Nokia, Skype and the mobile landscape?

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Kevin Fury, over on his blog, has some interesting thoughts on what Microsoft are up to in the mobile space. Building blocks such as the Windows Phone OS, Nokia's hardware and manufacturing expertise, the voice and IM handling of Skype, what does it add up to? The supposition (also echoed in part by Dave Winer) is that the major technology firms are gearing up for a confrontation with the mobile carrier networks.

The first assumption is that the current mobile network model, while not broken, is not going to foster innovation in services, as there is a huge focus on the short-term, bottom line profits and revenue on a per user basis. Traditionally,  this has led to many handsets being 'compromised' so that a network will buy them by the crate-load.

What if this wasn't there? What if they could be bypassed? Which is where Fury thinks Microsoft could be going:

Microsoft has a good mobile OS, they just bought a soft carrier in Skype, and whether the rumors of a potential acquisition of Nokia pan out or not, Microsoft’s recent deal with Nokia seems to go beyond a simple OS licensing agreement. If Microsoft is trying to turn the cellular industry on end, it’ll start out with Nokia hardware built to Microsoft specifications. No other hardware manufacturer would likely risk pissing off their major customers (AT&T, Verizon, etc.) with a move that so directly challenges the entire mobile industry. And of course Microsoft isn’t alone in this ambition. Apple and Google each appear to have been moving to the same destination by different paths.

Dave Winer also picks up on this, and reflects back that this disruptive idea is in the DNA of both Skype and Microsoft founder Bill Gates as well:

On the other hand, the original potential of Skype, if you can remember back to its inception (I can) was that it would disrupt the telcos, the same way Netflix is disrupting the entertainment business. If Gates can somehow keep the mess that Microsoft has become from interfering with the opportunity, then he could still do some disrupting before heading off the to the Old Software Dudes farm.

It's a big ask, especially as Nokia has traditionally been very close to the networks and will likely be so in the future - and, if some are to be believed,  its switch to Windows Phone was in part nudged by the networks to provide "competition" to Android and Apple. I suspect that, while the technological blocks are (or will be) in place to allow a split away from the networks, it's more a case of a bargaining chip that may never be deployed - the shocks would reverberate in boardrooms around the world, the co-ordination needed would likely cause anti-trust lawyers to take a very close look at any intra-company deliberations and it would leave anyone still with the carriers in a strong short to medium term position.

Still, it's always nice to have a doomsday weapon close at hand.