Skype on Monday announced that it's shifting away from its proprietary VoIP protocol and is instead embracing the Session Initiation Protocol, or SIP, which is in widespread use in business communications.
The adoption is expected to debut in its Skype for Sip for Business products, which are aimed at small and medium-sized businesses.
In an announcement Monday, Skype said existing SIP users can apply to participate in the beta program at its Skype for SIP site.
"Applicants will need to be businesses, have an installed SIP based IP-PBX system, as well as a level of technical competency to configure their own SIP-enabled PBX," the Skype announcement stated. The initial beta is available to a limited number of participants.
Skype indicated that its 405 million registered users -- mostly consumers, but a healthy 35% of business users, too -- can call each other from their business Web sites in the beta. If successful, the beta test will lead to Skype opening up the SIP-based approach to all comers later this year. Skype said its existing rates will remain in effect to beta users, although "further pricing details will be announced when the product is fully launched later this year," the company added.
In listing the advantages of Skype for SIP, the eBay unit said inbound calls will be connected to users' PBX systems via click-to-call. Users will be able to purchase online numbers from Skype so PBX systems can receive calls from landlines or mobile phones.
Even with its strong user base, which includes many businesses, Skype may have a difficult time selling its SIP-based service, said Pete Wilson, CEO of telecommunications consultancy TelAuthority.
"If voice services are mission critical to a business, the risk/reward equation does not justify using Skype," Wilson said in an interview. "Clearly, the reliability of this service has a ways to go to even be on the same field with the legacy landline services."
Wilson also questions whether typical small businesses have the "IT savvy" to manage the sophistication of the new Skype SIP-based service.
"Also," he asked, "where's the economic beef? Competition still thrives in the legacy voice business and if a business has even good price point -- not even the best pricing -- it makes it impossible to justify the Skype business case. VoIP has never taken off like expected and continues to be held back by constantly falling voice prices, which makes it difficult to justify capital outlays for new equipment like phones and PBXs, to say nothing of the more expensive technical resources needed for maintenance."
Skype appears to have been preparing for the business launch for some time. It recently launched its Skype 4.0 for Windows as well as a new release for its Silk wideband audio codec. More revealing perhaps is its partnership with Asterisk, the open source PBX supplier. Last fall, Skype teamed up with Asterisk in a beta project to deliver Skype calling services to Asterisk PBX small and medium-sized users.
Skype users can generally call each other free of charge and for about 2.1 cents to a landline in several countries.
Skype's parent company, eBay, has already written off $1.4 billion of the $2.6 billion it paid for Skype. While the VoIP calling service hasn't been a comfortable fit with eBay's online auction business, eBay has said that it is a good standalone business that accounted for $550 million in revenue last year.
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