Skype rules, but for how long?

Conventional wisdom, even among telecom cognoscenti is that Skype has become so big, that it can be declared a platform. Who can argue? After a shinny pretty face, a Mac-like ease of use and millions of users, when married to superb voice quality, it is hard not to like Skype. Even I have fallen prey to the charms of the product, and have found that I am shifting my VoIP minutes away from Vonage to Skype.

Still, I think there are some issues, which need to be talked about and addressed in our open forum. Last month, Popular Telephony, makers of another p2p VoIP software Peerio, announced that they were adding Skype support in their gateway. What it essentially means is that a small company using PT’s PBX replacement system can now pure-Skype calls on its gateway and then route them to different extensions, and Skype callers can leave voice mails as well. The outgoing calls work the same way – use the gateway and call someone on the Skype network.

(This is not such good news for PBX makers, or even those VoIP companies that are vying for the so-called-low-hanging fruit, aka small and medium sized businesses. Vonage just announced its intentions, and CBeyond wants to go public soon!)

PT’s gateway was meant to function as a bridge to the PSTN world, the old POTS network. Now it is also functioning as a bridge to Skype network, essentially turning Skype into a service provider, sans pipes. “We have always said that they are a service provider,” Dmitry Goroshevsky, CEO of PT said in an interview. (PT wants to become the middleware glue for VoIP, supporting all comers in its gateway and making sure that enterprise customers can make phone calls across all types of VoIP networks. Dmitry said that if Yahoo becomes popular tomorrow, then he would support Yahoo.)

PT was able to do this by building support for Skype API in their software. Now lets take this one step further – what if suddenly Yahoo and MSN and AOL start adding support for the Skype into their IM clients, just like Jeff Pulver did with Free World?

Today, Jeff Pulver put out an RFI for a way to leverage SIP and the Skype network. “So I have discussed with Henry if and how the SIP community can leverage SIP to make the best of both worlds into something that is greater than the sum of both,” he writes.

What are the implications of this? First if many services, some running on SIP start to interface with Skype, Skype simply becomes part of the whole “IP” voice equation, one of the many ways to connect. Now if there is a way where you you don’t need to get a Skype ID to communicate with other Skypers, then Skype becomes less important. Does this increase or decrease the value of its footprint? From a Metcalfe’s law standpoint, this would be fantastic news, but for a company looking to find ways to leverage its proprietary technologies, it becomes a “business problem.” Something to ponder about?

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