Skype Wants to Power Your Corporate Phone System

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Skype today launched Skype Connect, a VoIP service that enables enterprises to connect and use Skype for a corporate telecommunications. The company is leveraging its original consumer voice and video service to ride the wave of IP convergence in a fight for business dollars against the likes of heavyweights such as Avaya and Cisco. Previous to today’s announcement, Skype Connect 1.0 has been in beta since March 2009, and works with private branch exchange (PBX) and Unified Communications solutions. Enterprises pay a monthly fee of $6.95 per line while outgoing calls to landlines and mobile devices are charged at SkypeOut rates that start at 2.1 cents per minute. Incoming Skype calls are free.

So why the official big move into corporate telephony? For the past half-dozen years, Skype has prepared itself — ahead of the world’s migration — for packet-based communications, starting with its successful consumer offerings. Consumers, however, are more apt to use Skype’s free services like online voice calling and video chat. Out of 560 million registered users of Skype, only 8.1 million are paying customers on a monthly basis, so corporate customers will boost revenue potential. Last week’s news of Google’s new phone calls through Gmail feature can’t have gone unnoticed by Skype. While Gmail calls aren’t yet available for Google Apps customers, it’s only a matter of time before Google joins Skype in actively pursuing business budgets with increased corporate features.

For Skype to appeal to the business world, it has to go beyond what the original Skype Connect offered. When it first launched in beta last year, the service was looked upon by some as a simplified and lower-featured version of Skype for Asterisk and essentially just a way for Skype to offer low-cost calling minutes to corporate customers. Now Skype Connect clients can integrate a “click to call” button on a corporate website which customers can tap to get connected to a call center, for example. IT organizations can manage a Skype-powered PBX from any web-connected computer through a browser and the Skype Manager application. Eventually — sooner rather than later if Cisco does indeed purchase Skype as Om noted was a rumored possibility last night — video-conferencing and other value-add features could become further unified within Skype Connect.

Skype says the beta Connect service has attracted more than 2,400 global customers, and it has added real-time, dedicated customer support through Skype chat. Skype Connect is also certified to work with SIP-enabled PBX systems from Avaya, Cisco, SIPFoundry, ShoreTel, Siemens and Freetalk, to name a few, and is also supported on older PBX gateways such as those from VoSKY, AudioCodes and Grandstream.

I’ve been out of the enterprise world for a few years now, so I’m curious: Who’s ready for Skype to become the corporate phone system? Is anyone else thinking of how the mobile-empowered workforce might benefit from true Skype integration on enterprise handets?

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