Skype Now Means Business, Friends the SIP World

66 Comments

Updated: Skype, a division of beleaguered eBay (s EBAY), is going corporate. The company today announced that it will play nice with corporate PBX systems that use Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). According to The Wall Street Journal, the Skype-for-SIP product will be introduced as a beta product and will be tested by a limited number of companies.

Details on how this service will work are still fuzzy — Skype, continuing its habit of playing favorites in the press, hasn’t really bothered to get in touch with those likely to ask tough questions. The Journal story talks a lot of about the market and competition, without getting into the specifics, except that it will be targeted at small and medium-sized businesses.

How is this new effort supposed to work? As Skype Journal explains, this is a simplified version of another PBX-centric product, Skype for Asterisk. A speech by Digium founder and CTO Mark Spencer, the creator of Asterisk, at the recently concluded eComm conference gives us a glimpse of what this new effort might be. Spencer announced that Skype was now going to work with Asterisk and that produce will be called Skype for Asterisk.

It supports, of course, the usernames, encryption, end points, and it supports both talking to regular Skype names, any arbitrary Skype name, as well as talking to the SkypeIn, SkypeOut services. It’s really, the first practical Skype gateway from a PBX platform. It allows you to connect this really broad user base of people that are already using Skype, with Asterisk. If you think about Asterisk as a very pragmatic and practical platform for telephony, for business phone systems, Skype has been incredibly successful in the Voice over IP space because it’s been a very pragmatic solution for customers to be able to use.

As Spencer points out, this is really a marriage made in heaven. This product is called Skype for Asterisk. Spencer in his speech said that Skype is going to release “something called the Business Control Panel.”

Although it’s not implemented in the current Beta, Skype is requiring that the usernames you use to register your device with Skype, in other words, the ones you use with the Skype for Asterisk, will all have to be business control panel accounts, which I believe means you are not going to be able to use existing accounts unless you are somehow able to make them part of the business control panel.

A typical boneheaded move, making people sign up for yet another account.

Nevertheless, both Skype for SIP and Skype for Asterisk are a Maybe it’s a way to give an illusion of growth, making it easier for the company to be sold to a gullible buyer. WSJ reports that Skype had $550 million in revenues last year. It needs to grow that number fast, otherwise eBay won’t be able to get rid of the service. The megabillion-dollar purchase of Skype was a worse decision than the New York Yankees’ signing of never-playing pitcher Carl Pavano.

Update: Since posting about Skype on Business, in addition to some clarifications, there are some additional thoughts and comments from our readers:

  • The Business Control Panel is something which is already available. (link)
  • David Beckemeyer aka Mr. VoIP points out that “It maps ONE skype name to ONE PBX SIP endpoint – it lets users on Skype call into the PBX. That’s got some value, but it isn’t general SIP to Skype interop.”
  • Pat Phelan of MaxRoam points out that Skype has become what it set out to disrupt, an ordinary everyday minute stealer.
  • The introduction of the service is bad news for Gizmo5, which recently launched OpenSky,a free service to call Skype from any VoIP phone.
  • Updated#2: SkypeJournal has done a good comparison of Skype for SIP and Skype for Asterisk, pointing out that they are two distinct business products that will help the company grow its revenue base.

    Skype For SIP is barren of everything that makes Skype meaningful and invaluable in the workplace.

    Skype is selling cheap, convenient minutes to enterprise plumbers. Legacy audio quality. No audio, video, conferencing, buddy lists, file sharing, presence, or software extensions. SFS is the commoditized low end of VoIP.

    With SFS, Skype defines itself to the channel and to its business customers as a “value” provider, helping companies shave pennies, competing with the “minute stealer” industry. While there’s money to be had, Skype For SIP

    This abandons Skype’s central tenets

    I couldn’t agree with SkypeJournal more. You shuld really read the full analysis by them.

    Related Post: Who Killed the VoIP Revolution?

    66 Comments

    Tim Panton

    The price for Skype for Asterisk has been announced – $66 per channel.
    So the $1000 in the table – would represent 15 channels.

    idynamics

    VoiceGear Connect gateways for Skype from IndustryDynamics can help you take advantage of Skype in a business environment with any type of PBX system.

    All VoiceGear Connect gateways are integrated appliances which can work with any Analog, Digital or VoIP phone system. You can simply connect the gateway to your on-premise PBX system and instantly enable all office phones for Skype calling.

    VoiceGear doesn’t have any monthly fees (other than cost of Skype calls) and you can even accept calls from your Skype contacts or call them directly on their Skype.

    Lisha Sterling

    You can add existing Skype accounts to business control panels in Skype. I did just that when i set up a family “business” to manage the Skype accounts of my kids who are each in different parts of the planet at the moment.

    It seems annoying to me that they feel the need to make attaching Skype to Asterisk cost anything (besides tech time). Seriously, it makes more sense to just encourage businesses to go ahead and connect and use Skype exclusively for all their intl outgoing phone calls and make the money off of that.

    Ralph Doncaster

    This reminds me of the click-to-call service that Nortel & others were pushing several years ago. At least that worked with a normal phone (i.e. no special software required). Giving customers the ability to call your business through skype is a cute idea, but I think most customers would still just dial company’s 1-800 number instead.

    I can see techie types using it if wideband is supported, but that’s about it…

    Daniel Berninger

    To David Beckmeyer’s point – The announcement is welcome although not Skype – SIP settlement free peering aka interconnection. It sadly drops Skype’s HD functionality for G.729. Even with this announcement and the recent announcement of royalty free access to Skype’s SILK codec, the intent seems to be growing the number of Skype capable endpoints while leaving Skype closed from a network interconnection point of view. Skype might check their history and see how well the strategy worked out for AOL. The HD voice future requires a fully open Skype and direct interconnection of all the SIP islands.

    See http://telephonyonline.com/wireless/news/jeff-pulver-voip-visionary-0323/

    babyis60

    I think the G729 limitation is a pragmatic one (and short term)
    Sip for Skype is about selling minutes – many of Skype’s PSTN interconnects are G729 only,
    so the easiest rollout is just to limit the beta to this.

    Contrast this with Skype For Asterisk – which is superficially similar – but isn’t about minutes, it’s about the real strength of VoIP – control/routing of a call using business logic that resides _outside_ the PBX.

    Here’s a trivial demo of calling from a web page to a skype ID – without installing skype but using SFA.

    http://sfa.westhawk.co.uk/skype/call.xsql?key=timpanton

    Chaim Haas

    Skype started with G.729 support since enterprises use this protocol to increase the number of calls over their WAN link. But we also realized that a number of people will want to do G.711. Rather than hold up the introduction of Skype For SIP Beta, we do plan to add G.711 support sometime during the next few weeks, so it will be available to all participants in the beta program.

    Markus Göbel's Tech News Comments

    It’s nice to see most of my VoIP heroes discussing on my favourite website again. Only Jeff Pulver or Daniel Berninger is missing. Long time no see! :)

    So let’s get to the point: As we all know, you can forward Skype calls from one account to another. So the “only for business users” part of this topic should be no problem.

    Now it’s time that one of the entrepreneurial persons who commented to this post (David Beckemeyer, Pat Phelan, Dan York, Luca Filigheddu, …) takes the opportunity to build a reliable bridge from Skype to SIP out of this new service. As always my aim is to forward my incoming Skype calls to a SIP address, so that I can answer them on a normal phone, without paying Skype a dime PC can always stay switched off. For more than two years I am already asking for this.

    http://www.goebel.net/technews/2008/01/sip-address-for-skype-better-other-way.html
    http://www.goebel.net/technews/2008/03/free-bridge-from-skype-to-phone.html

    So please, entrepreneurs, set up a server with business control panel!

    I will then forward my Skype calls to your server and you connect them to my SIP address. Voxeo’s developer program has already let me do that, but lately voice is only oneway. Something must be broken. Another person who reads my blog has the same problem.

    Companies like Phonegnome or Gizmo5 should offer that as a feature. Gizmo5 can already forward my SIP calls to a Skype address. But I want it vice versa: from Skype to SIP. This way I would be able to use Skype without even having their software installed. For outgoing calls I use much cheaper SIP providers.

    You could even play an ad in every incoming Skype call!

    Chaim Haas

    Om,

    I have to correct something that you’ve cross-posted from Dave Beckemeyer:

    Skype for SIP actually can allow multiple Skype IDs to be mapped through to a single SIP identity. However, during the beta period, we are only supporting a 1 to 1 mapping due to the fact that Skype’s advanced Business Control Panel (BCP) configuration portal is not yet available at this time. If a company wishes to configure multiple Skype ID’s mapped to a SIP identity, we can accommodate this for a subset of the beta trial participants.

    Chaim

    Erik Lagerway

    Chaim, I signed up for the beta. Any idea when I might see a welcome email so I can test interoperability with the Microsoft Response Point phone system?

    Erik Lagerway

    On a similar note, I heard a rumour that it’s likely Jason Fischl the current CTO at Counterpath (Xten) will be going over to work with Jonathan Christensen (General Manager – Media Platform) at Skype. Jason was an early advocate of SIP in the IETF and works with some of the best minds on the subject: Cullen Jennings, Robert Sparks, Alan Duric come to mind.

    This could get interesting.

    http://sipthat.com/2009/03/23/skype-for-sip-its-about-time/

    konfeksiyon

    The other part of the service is not very compelling: Letting a company use Skypeout for calls to the PSTN. Any company that is already doing SIP (which is required to use “Skype for SIP”) has dozens of choices for cheaper (and often better quality) PSTN termination than Skypeout.

    David Beckemeyer

    Perhaps by coming out with something this lame (this limited), they can use it as justification for their case that “nobody is asking for SIP interop.”

    This service is not the SIP interoperability people are asking for. It maps ONE skype name to ONE PBX SIP endpoint – it lets users on Skype call into the PBX. That’s got some value, but it isn’t general SIP to Skype interop.

    The other part of the service is not very compelling: Letting a company use Skypeout for calls to the PSTN. Any company that is already doing SIP (which is required to use “Skype for SIP”) has dozens of choices for cheaper (and often better quality) PSTN termination than Skypeout.

    John Thompson

    I’m not sure this is going to be a big revenue generator for Skype, at least not by using SkypeIn/SkypeOut. Their SkypeOut rates are already more than double my current per-minute costs from my Asterisk box to US numbers via SIP. The only thing Skype can offer me is access to free calling to and from existing Skype users, and there’s no revenue in that.

    This could increase their base of installed users as businesses begin publishing their Skype names for global toll-free calling, but you won’t see businesses flocking to pay Skype anything for that. Skype users can already call me toll-free from anywhere in the world on my US 1-800 number.

    Pat Phelan

    @dan
    so basically Skype is becoming what it set out to disrupt
    An ordinary everyday minute reseller.
    As Michael Pate says “quite a development cycle” or is it circle :-)

    Om Malik

    @Pat….. typical of you to sum up the damn post in one line :-)

    @Michael Pate, well, thanks for letting us know of that link. funny :-) or how time flies.

    ouch

    @ Pat Phelan’s remarks, which have some well-timed but perhaps not intentioned irony built in

    It seems that Maxroam itself is also becoming what it set out to disrupt, with higher roaming fees in places than the main networks, for example even in the EU there are call rates of 98 cents or more to a mobile of the visited country, or 83 cents or more to a mobile of one’s home country. These are close to double the Eurotariff that the regulators worked so hard for.

    And Maxroam’s upgrades have been taking over 3 weeks so far, with some customers still unable to use the original DIDs or get their previous credit transferred to the new Belgian SIM

    Please get your own act sorted before exercising your wisdom on others

    Todd

    Buying Skype was *smart* – ebay not cutting deals with the telcos and letting me call buyers and sellers to ask questions using my mobile phone was the stupid part.

    Still no blessed Twitter interoperability for ebay items activity even dumber.

    Tim Panton

    We are on the Beta for Skype-for-asterisk and I discussed the ‘new account’ thing with both Digium and Skype.
    Bassically the issue is that the EULA for existing skype users states that they may not tell 3rd parties their passwords.
    The way that the Skype-for-asterisk is constucted you _have_ to tell the PBX admin your skype user-id and password.
    That’s in direct conflict. So S4A users will have to agree to new terms whatever happens.

    To ‘simplify’ the situation Skype have said that existing personal accounts will not be able migrate to the new user class.
    This gives those of us who have our business names registered as skype ids a problem that we won’t be able to use them with S4A. (the VoIP user’s conference has call discussing this with me and Digium’s John Todd – http://tinyurl.com/cgx598 )

    That aside, I’m a huge fan of S4A and our experience to date has been positive. We leverage the improved identity management (vs PSTN or SIP) and low costs of Skype to do some very cool integration with business processes and web applications by routing Skype calls through the extensible and scriptable platform of Asterisk.

    jasongoecke

    Much of what you could do with SFA and Asterisk you may do with SFS and Asterisk. You may reduce the number of SFA channels you need, as you only need it for Presence and Asterisk -> Skype User calls. As SFS may now handle inbound and SkypeOut calling.

    It would not take much for Skype to add the additional user data available over SFA as custom SIP Headers and deliver those over SFS negating that SFA differentiation. Further, I suspect, through Skype’s public silence on the subject, that SFA channels will be limited for a single account to combat the same issues that keep SFS from doing SIP -> Skype Users.

    charlesneville

    An unrelated thought – technical viability aside – how much would you pay as a pre minute charge for business Skype calls if you those calls were ‘prioritised’ and therefore less likely to suffer the occasional glitches, delays and drops that often happens with Skype calls?

    Dan York

    Om,

    Skype did reach out to some folks late last week – it’s really reached out to you! – and the result is my post here, http://bit.ly/18HT9c , and Jim Courtney’s post here, http://bit.ly/10ADTG

    The “Business Control Panel” is a free service Skype has had around for quite some time that lets you collect your *existing* Skype accounts into a “business” and then assign Skype Credits across all of those accounts. You can also assign “Online Numbers” (what we used to call SkypeIn) to those accounts. Skype indicates that they’ll be redesigning that site soon and incorporating this “Skype For SIP” into that. I was told by Skype that you *could* use existing Skype accounts with Skype For SIP.

    Pat,

    No, this is NOT a partnership with Vosky. It’s more like the “Skype For Asterisk” service in that premise-based SIP servers/IP-PBXs will be able to connect directly to Skype’s SIP network. In fact, if anything I think this announcement would threaten Vosky’s business, since you don’t need Vosky’s premise box to connect into Skype. We’ll see.

    Om Malik

    @Dan

    That is just straight up bull from Skype PR. They didn’t get in touch and they were selective in getting the information to you, Jim and WSJ. They just admitted to me in e-mail exchange that they were “time limited” in who they were sharing that information with.

    Regarding “business control panel etc.”, so you are essentially saying that WSJ story is wrong?

    Dan York

    @Om – Hmmm… I accidently submitted this comment you posted here before I finished editing it and then submitted a second one that said something like “it’s silly that they didn’t reach out to you!” I have no clue who Skype PR did or did not contact and certainly did NOT mean to imply that they tried to reach you.

    So the first sentence of my comment shown here is wrong.

    I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “Regarding So you are essentially saying that WSJ story is wrong.” By “So” are you referring to SkypeOut? Or was that the beginning of the sentence? Unfortunately the WSJ article is behind a subscription paywall and given that I’m not a subscriber I can’t read it. So I don’t know whether I’m saying they are wrong or not.

    Pat Phelan

    Basically Om, Skype are partnering with Vosky
    You sit a Vosky box on top of your corporate PBX and voila you now can connect to the open world, maybe I am reading this announcement wrong
    At last Skype seem to have discovered its leverage point, its their minutes, they are at present one of the worlds largest purchaser of minutes and want to use that relationship to pass on their pricing to corporate clients.
    This may work in undeveloped countries but the first time a USA based CEO gets a poor quality call of which we have all had lots on Skype that box will be relegated to the dustbin.
    I think the term Andy Abramson coined many moons ago was “minute stealers”

    Yuvamani

    “first time a USA based CEO gets a poor quality call of which we have all had lots on Skype ”

    CEO’s standards for voice have been effectively reduced thanks to the appalling quality of cellphone voice in the US. They will tolerate bad skype calls especially if they can save some moolah in a recession .

    eric jonasson

    Talking of bone heads, it is a bit bone headed to criticise based on no research – Om , please do not follow the RT journalists please – the business control panel of Skype, which has been around for some time, allows any user to be joined to a user group. No new users for Skype this way, and no illusions of growth. Slowly, Skype take the same route as many of the most well known companies , starting at the consumer with a good and cheap product then moving up the quality and service ladder.

    Om Malik

    @Eric

    Thanks for that clarification about “business control panel”. I am still trying to find clear details on what this “new package” is all about.

    Anyway your comment about moving about the quality and service ladder, it is obvious. They need to grow revenues and they are facing some serious challenge in getting new customers on a consumer level so they are going after business community.

    How good this service will be and how many people will adopt it, remains to be seen.

    Om Malik

    You are absolutely right. I think the company is basically grasping for straws to grow revenues as aggressively as it can so they be sold to the next sucker. I am sure it will do well. I think it will be a while before this new technology is really adopted.

    Pankaj

    Smaller companies have increasingly started to use Skype for corporate purposes. We use Skype a lot for international sales and internal collaboration for teams scattered across Asia and South America. In fact, we had submitted this story to Skype, and won their Skype for Business Award for it.

    Comments are closed.