Skype: VoIP, IPtelephony.

Skype offers a wide spectrum of features that are indeed very relevant to the telecommunications and multimedia computing world.  (Skype, 2006).  It has been an innovative technological company since its foundation back in 2002 by the entrepreneurs Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, who also created the file sharing application Kazaa.  Skype is a peer-to-peer Internet telephony network (closed source) that “competes against existing open VoIP protocols such as SIP, IAX, and H.323. The Skype Group, acquired by eBay in October 2005, is headquartered in Luxembourg, with offices in London, Tallinn and Prague.”  (Skype, 2007).  Before dealing with the benefits and drawbacks of Skype, it is very important to have an idea of what Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), Internet Protocol telephony (IPtelephony), or Broadband telephony mean. To make it simple, the term VoIP will be used.

VoIP is a technology that enables the communication of people using the Internet instead of the traditional telephone system.  It is significantly less expensive than normal telephone long distance calls and one broadband Internet connection can be used with multiple phone lines without losing its functionality, reliability, or voice quality.  It offers many advantages over normal phone systems, but it also has its drawbacks.  (Voip.Com, 2007a; Voip.Com, 2007b).  Tim Kelly deals with VoIP in greater detail on his online book “VoIP For Dummies” (Kelly, 2006).  “Voice Over Internet” (2005a; 2005b) deals with basic concepts of VoIP like a simple terminology for beginners and the standardization issues.  It states the following regarding VoIP as an emerging technology:

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“As technology tends to do, it was probably inevitable that the personal computers and telephones would eventually find more common ground. VoIP is that common ground.  VoIP allows data and voice streaming within a particular network. That network may or may not be limited to a specific building or company, though many companies are finding that it’s a very cost effective way of dealing with the need for data and voice streaming.”  (Voice Over Internet, 2005c).

Regarding Skype, its technology has experienced a fast growth in popular usage and software development. Skype “is system is notable for its broad range of features, including free voice and video conferencing, its ability to use peer to peer (decentralized) technology to overcome common firewall and NAT (Network address translation) problems, and its extreme countermeasures against reverse engineering of the software or protocol.”  (Skype, 2007).  A list of its major events follows below:

“September 2002: investment from Draper Investment Company.

April 2003: and domain names registered.

August 2003: First public beta version released.

September 2005: SkypeOut banned in South China..

October 2005: eBay purchased Skype (Oct 14).

December 2005: videotelephony introduced.

April 2006: 100 million registered users.

October 2006: Skype 2.0 for Mac is released, the first full release of Skype with video for Macintosh.

December 2006: Skype announces a new pricing structure as of January 18, 2007, with connection fees for all SkypeOut calls; Skype 3.0 for Windows is released.”  (Spyke, 2007).

Even though Skype has been widely adopted, it has also been strongly criticized “from two main legal and political directions – challenges to its intellectual property, and political concerns by governments who wish to exert more formal control over aspects of their telecommunications systems.”  (Spyke, 2007).  Skype was acquired by eBay in 2005.  This acquisition/merging process has helped Skype improve its services:

“With its rapidly expanding network of users, the Skype business complements the eBay and PayPal platforms. Each business is self-reinforcing, organically bringing greater returns with each new user or transaction. The three services can also reinforce and accelerate the growth of one another, thereby increasing the value of the combined businesses. Working together, they can create an unparalleled engine for ecommerce and communications around the world.”  (Skype.Com, 2005).

In order to help users to understand any topic related to Skype or VoIP, this company has published several user guides (Skype.  (2007).  Besides that, John Blau also deals with the issue of the premium services (Blau, 2005), while James E. Gaskin explains how Skype works (2005a; 2005b; 2005c), making a strong emphasis on the voice quality on the Skype system.  Gaskin also deals with the main drawbacks of Skype as follows:

“First, relatively few people will give up a “normal” phone for a PC-linked Skype connection. New products, such as standard phone handsets with USB connectors, help blur the line separating Skype from the rest of the telephone world, but that line remains.  (…)  Second, and potentially more damaging to a Skype worldview, is Skype’s completely proprietary nature. Open source fans don’t appreciate Skype’s rejection of open source values and standards. Large companies don’t appreciate Skype’s way of worming through corporate firewalls.”  (Gaskin, 2005c).

On the other hand, Skype has many strong competitors (Damaka, 2004-2006; Gizmo, 2006; Google Press, 2006; Google Talk, 2007; Leah, 2005; OpenWengo, 2007; Vonage, 2001-2007; and Yahoo! Messenger, 2007).  Above all of the technological issues, the issue about integration is very relevant.  This issue has to be studied carefully  (Global IP Alliance, 2005; GSM Association, 2007; The 3rd Generation Partnership Project, 2006; Waclawsky, 2005; and Wi-Fi Alliance, 2006).  Another relevant issue is security. The Trusted Computing Group (2007) has addressed this issue.  It is important to assert that Skype uses a strong set of encryption in its network as stated above.  In relation to the issue of security, there are many ongoing debates since this is a very controversial issue.  For example, David Safford (2002) deals with the need of the Trusted Computing regulation while Richard M. Stallman (2006) holds a strong opposition to the concept of Trusted Computing.  One advantage of Skype is its encryption from the users’ point of view, but some governments are concerned about law enforcement in this area of telecommunication.

I have found Skype to be a relevant and innovative technology for the multimedia computing community at large.  Skype offers many multimedia features that sooner or later will be available as standards for residential and business telecommunication uses through VoIP. Skype faces many challenges, but it also has many opportunities for spreading and growing worldwide.  I have found Skype to be relevant to the multimedia computing community since it has been very innovative in a short period of time.  The acquisition by eBay has initiated an integration process with Skype, PayPal, and eBay.  As technological innovations are extremely important for the multimedia computing world, Skype can be considered a real innovator due to its wide variety of features.