Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : April 2009

|

 TECHNOLOGY TALK:

BY JOHN ANDERSON  

Skype is probably the most popular voice communications service out there. Currently, it has over 400 million accounts, up from 276 million at the end of 2007. Skype lets you make calls over the Internet to just about anyone.

What’s So Great About Skype?

The fact that it is easy to install and use has made it very popular. The fact that it’s free hasn’t hurt, either. All you need to do is visit www.skype.com and install the free software on your computer, add a microphone and you’re in business. You can then talk free from computer to computer with anyone else running the Skype software anyone in the world.

Skype Features

With Skype you can use other free services, including Instant Message and Video Calls (both of which are also free), day or night, seven days a week to any Skype user.

While you are logged in you will see who else on your contact list is online and be alerted when new people have logged in. You can then type them a quick message or start a call or video call to them with one click (though it might be courteous to call them first, in case they were about to call someone else).

Want to talk to someone who isn’t using Skype? You can do that and more with Skype’s paid services. If you choose to pay as you go and stock up on Skype Credit, you will be able to send text messages, activate a voice mailbox and make calls to landlines and cell phones for just a few cents per minute. You can also buy an online number so your friends without Skype can call you at local rates. If you choose the monthly subscription you get lower rates and access to all their premium features. Rates range from $2.99 to $9.99 per month.

But wait, there’s more. You can also get Skype To Go by downloading Skype to your mobile phone or PSP – a great solution for calling friends overseas at great low rates.

What Makes It Work?

Skype was introduced in August 2003 by the creators of the KaZaA file-sharing network. The founders sold KaZaA before most of the legal troubles with their peer-to-peer counterpart Napster. The technology behind Skype is an updated version of that same peer-to-peer software.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is the power behind many communications services that are becoming strong competition for traditional cell phone and landline providers. Vonage is one of the most notable users of VoIP, but unlike Vonage, Skype doesn’t use big phone switches and controlling computers in regional data centers. The only centralized services are the login servers, which also show what other Skype users are online, voicemail and “SkypeOut” calls to traditional telephone networks around the world. This infrastructure greatly reduces the cost per number of subscribers.

While VoIP has been around for a while, it has only been within the past couple of years or so that its quality and ease of use have begun to rival landline and cell phone offerings from the major telecommunications firms.

Skype for Business

About 35 percent of Skype users are businesses that use the service for teleconferencing and keeping in contact with colleagues. The people at Skype have recognized this and have added a few business-specific features, including Desktop Sharing, Send Faxes, Record Calls and Skylook, for MS Outlook. Skylook will let you record Skype calls, receive text alerts, get voicemail in your inbox, Outlook Reminders via phone and more.

Using Skype in the workplace presents its own challenges and pitfalls. Users have to be mindful of background noise and conversations that might not normally be heard when using a phone but can be when using a microphone connected to your computer. Users also have to be mindful of their surroundings when using Skype’s video chat. A cluttered desk is probably something you don’t want to advertise. Personal, confidential or potentially embarrassing items in the background are also a hazard.

Issues with Skype

Customer support is one of the largest problems reported. Skype prefers to offer assistance only through its web site, having no easy way to contact customer support. Skype has also recently added internal monthly and daily usage caps on “Unlimited” subscriptions. The daily usage limit seems to be missing from their Fair Usage Policy, and user accounts which reach the usage cap are blocked from using their unlimited subscriptions until the next calendar month. And beware if you purchase User Credit, as it will expire without usage after any 180-day period.

Call quality has been reported as excellent with the Skype service, but the software uses a lot of your computer’s processing power and relies on your Internet connection. If you are running any other resource intensive programs on your computer, call quality and dropped calls will occur more often.

Skype also cannot be used to call emergency numbers such as 911, a disadvantage of VoIP providers in general.

Overall

Skype is another instance of a product taking advantage of our current technology and using it to its full advantage. It is redefining how we can communicate and forcing other providers to reexamine how they do business.

If you like to keep in contact with friends and family near or far, Skype will let you chat, talk or see each other more often and for less money.

Also, if anyone is interested – 34. That is the number of times in this article I’ve mentioned the word Skype. Make that 35.

previous next
Publications : Bar Bulletin: April 2008

back to top