Technology

The hype on Skype

Skype has been in the press quite a bit lately, particularly with E-bay buying them for $2.6B. For those who are not familiar with Skype, it is a Peer-to-Peer (P2P) messaging application created by some of the original developers of the Kazaa P2P file sharing tool. Skype uses a proprietary P2P protocol instead of the SIP (Session Initial Protocol) and codecs used by other VOIP/Messaging systems. Skype clients are available for MS Windows, Apple Mac OS X, Microsoft Pocket PC (Windows Mobile), and Linux. Skype has also added “SkypeOut” that allows a Skype user to call any direct dial phone number in the public telephone network at extremely competitive rates, and “SkypeIn” (Still in Beta) that allows a Skype user to purchase regular telephone numbers in a number of locations that can be dialed to reach the user through Skype. After testing Skype a bit more lately I have come to some conclusions:

  • The Skype clients on Windows and Mac OS X are quite stable
  • Skype tends to update all of the clients frequently, Mac and Linux users arent left behind
  • Audio quality of the P2P protocol is excellent, particularly for Skype-to-Skype calls
  • SkypeOut works mostly as advertised. Audio quality isn’t to land line standards all the time but its acceptible and similar to mobile phone quality
  • SkypeIn seems to work well with the same call quality as SkypeOut. I have two SkypeIn numbers, one in Boston, and the other in London – both work equally well.
  • Skype has instant messaging and file transfer capabilities
  • Skype has voicemail
  • As of right now Skype is NOT meant to be a telephone replacement and doesn’t directly compete in that market like some of the VOIP providers.
  • Skype publishes an Application Programming Interface (API) that enables anyone to create add-ons or other software that leverage or ehances Skype’s services. One such company is iSkoot of Cambridge, MA that makes an add-on that allows you to use Skype capabilities from your mobile phone.
  • Many hardware vendors make various gadgets that work with or enhance Skype, such as handsets, headsets, etc. Linksys has recently released a cordless handset that you can carry around your home/office that uses Skype via your PC.

I don’t currently use Skype on a regular basis for “production” use. But I do intend to use it in a couple of weeks when I am in the UK to call clients/home for ~$.02/Min. I also plan to pick up the Linksys cordless phone and will post my thoughts on that after playing with it for a while.

Some people wonder why E-bay purchased Skype but I think a quick look at both copmanies show that they’re all about building and connecting communities. Im sure there are synergies that will emerge from this merger – most of which are probably not obvious to us now. Some are also concerned that E-bay will somehow destroy what Skype has become but I am optimistic that they wont – their track record with PayPal has been pretty good so far.

There are now some alternatives to Skype, including the Gizmo Project that look promising. Gizmo has some neat features, is also cross platform, and seems to allow you to use regular SIP phones with the service. However, Scott and I did some testing of Gizmo and we couldnt seem to connect between my PC laptop and his G5 running Mac OS X. We’ll probably test it more in the future – but after a few unsuccessful attempts I lost interest and moved on to other toys.

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