So What is Skype?
Skype started out as a VoIP telephone communication service that used a Peer-to-Peer model that allowed people to talk to other Skype subscribers over the internet. As it was free and subscribers needed only a computer – equipped with a microphone, speakers, webcam and an internet connection it gained popularity very quickly clocking up 30 million subscribers in its first decade. The original attraction of Skype was free long distance calls and instant messaging. This was possible because Skype used the newly developing – in the 2000’s – Voice over IP (VoIP) protocol riding upon their P2P network. This ad-hoc P2P network, which was struck up and torn down with every call allowed Skype to use available subscribers’ bandwidth along the path to create the link between the parties. This allowed subscribers to hold conversations free of charge to other Skype registered user wherever they happened to be in the world. This had tremendous value for frequent travelers, small businesses or those wishing to communicate with family or friends who lived abroad as it was free so it saved on long- distance or international phone charges. Indeed the popularity of Skype was not just limited to free calling it became an important technology in its own right as voice, instant messaging and even video calling became popular. Such was Skype’s early dominance of the VoIP market was shown by the fact that all early VoIP was commonly referred to as Skype.
Nonetheless, Skypes early meteoric rise was not without some problems as it was generally disliked by business and their network and security people in particular. This was because of Skype’s P2P model which relayed calls over their subscribers own internet connections. This meant if users in the business downloaded and subscribed to Skype then the company’s precious bandwidth could be used to relay other peoples’ phone calls. This practice meant it was difficult to manage bandwidth on the company’s internet connections or to secure the network. Despite this, Skype became so popular that it was bought by Microsoft in 2011 for $8.5B US.
Notably the first thing that Microsoft did was to change Skype from a Peer-to-Peer network to a Client-Server model using Microsoft’s own super-nodes to control connection setup. This went a long way to persuading businesses to adopt Skype as an acceptable business tool. Furthermore, the network redesign increased Skypes reliability and call quality issues that had always been a bugbear.
However, is Skype suitable for business use?
Skype a Personal or Business Utility
Skype was built and became the poster pinup for personal internet users, who were in the early days willing to trade quality for value – dollars versus voice quality, reliability and quality of service. However, after Microsoft’s acquisition of the company the long-standing quality of experience issues were improved and the business value became apparent. It was now possible for small businesses to have free or very cheap services such as local/long distant voice calls, instant messaging, file transfer, conference calling, screen or desktop sharing, along with presence notification to Skype registered devices. Furthermore, the development of Skype meant that it could now run on any device, such as tablets, watches, TVs and just about anything with an internet connection.
As a result, Skype today, is a fully unified communication application that supports all the business channels you can imagine. In addition, Skype has developed along the way to be a collaboration tool that enables businesses to share files, desktops and this helps integrate project teams or enables and encourages distant learning or remote team meetings.
So, what is Skype’s Value to the Business Community?
Skype is still a personal use communication solution that has is freely available to download from Microsoft. It currently runs on a hybrid model where calls and services that reside on and work across the Skype network are free of charge. Nonetheless, the older Premium services are now incorporated into the entry level product making it adequate for small medium business use. An indication of this is how Skype now offers several business orientated products such as Meet Now, Skype with Alexa, Skype for Content Creators and Skype for Business. To understand why Skype is now a good business option we have to look at the features and products that have become available over the years. For example, once there were some basic free features – voice, video, chat, and then there were business orientated premium options, such as SkypeIN, SkypeOut, and Skype Premium. These are now long gone and their functionality are all included in the basic Skype package.
Skype to Phone
Skype’s primary goal back in the early 2000s was to provide free or cheap VoIP services over its peer2peer (P2P) network. That was perfectly good if you had Skype subscribers to call but what if you wanted to call someone on their landline or mobile phone, i.e. someone on the PSTN. Skype’s solution was to use the SkypeOut service, this is now renamed Skype Credit. With Skype to Phone you can make external calls using Skype Credit or a Skype subscription. Using the former, a subscriber will fund an account which can be used to make off-network calls to mobile or landline phones.
The way Skype Credit works is that the subscriber pre-funds an account so that they can make off-network calls. Skype routes outbound traditional calls to mobile of landlines on the PSTN using an interconnection to mobile networks or a Gateway to the PSTN. When using Skype Credit you are buying time on the PSTN/Mobile network that is now accessible through the Skype IP/PSTN Gateways at very favorable rates. These calls are pf course chargeable but because of Skypes bulk buying power they are typically very cheap in comparison to standard network charges.
Skype to Phone also allows you to make very cheap international calls too many countries. You make these calls the same way as you would any other local call but Skype will offer you several options and a choice to use Skype Credit or a Subscription.
The way the Skype handles outgoing off-network calling means that an SMB can use Skype as a viable communication system, which makes considerable savings over standard telephones especially on outgoing calls. Indeed for a small company using Skype as the sole telephone system is perfectly viable as it is not just cheap but also provides for mobility and call accessibility from smartphones, laptops or practically any intelligent device.
But, what about inbound calls how are they handled?
An SMB telephone system requires to have a main office or business number that is advertised and accessible by all and not just a Skype ID. Thus Skype Numbers formerly SkypeIN provides this service. Skype Numbers provide a real local telephone number that is reachable by anyone and from anywhere. If a business wishes to receive calls from a PSTN or Mobile phone, which they surely must, then they will require a Skype Number.
Skype Numbers however have many benefits as they can be selected from many geographical locations. Indeed a Skype Number offers many complimentary features as they work the same way as a local or national real PSTN telephone number. The way this works is that when a call is made to a Skype Number the call is forwarded to the customer’s Skype ID at local rates to the registered Skype ID, on a computer, device or phone. The caller is thus charged at local rates and they will believe they are communicating with someone in the same district or city. This mean you can setup a Skype Number in just about any country you would like to have a presence and your customers in that country would be charged local rates for calling.
All you have to do to benefit from this global presence is to order a Skype number, share it with your customers using your business marketing methods, and then you can start to receive incoming calls on the new business number on any of your Skype devices. With Skype Numbers you can buy as much as ten numbers per location, for example, New York, London, Milan or Tokyo in order to give your company an international feel or global presence.
Previously, if an SMB were considering using Skype as a telecoms solution then the higher level premium offering would be the least they should have considered. This was because the Premium service provides so much more than the free offering. Premium no longer exists as its more valuable features have now been assimilated into the free personal edition. Some other options are available as subscription such as the unlimited calls to a specific country/region. For example you can buy unlimited calls to the USA or bundles of minutes to India (mobile as well as landlines) on a monthly subscription.
Nonetheless, many of the best features such as HD video conferencing with subtitles for as many as fifty participants are available in the personal edition. As is desktop sharing and live chat.
The main benefit for the SMB will be the unlimited calls to a country or region, by paying a subscription upfront allows for more accurate financial forecasting and there is no need to police and monitor call usage. However, the other benefits are the group and collaboration tools. The benefit of having the group video call facility is that it enables remote collaboration for disperse project teams or facilitates video conferencing for national or worldwide meetings. Group screen sharing is another function that allows members in a conference call to share their desktop with the other delegates. This is extremely useful when doing remote presentations, tutorials or just sharing visual information during a meeting, everyone can see on their screen what you are discussing, whether it be a spreadsheet, a graph, software code or a whiteboard, just as if they were looking at a projection on the screen. Live Chat is another bonus feature that facilitates placing a button on a company website – live chat or call free – which will connect through to a Customer Service or Technical support agent
Skype Standard Features
Now that Skype is shipped as one version with most of the premium features assimilated into the product it is easy to see the available features and functionality at a glance. For example, Skype now supports in one free package for Windows, Apple, Android iOS, X-Box and Alex the following features:
- HD Audio and Video Calling with subtitles and emotion reactions
- Smart messaging with reactions
- Screen/desktop sharing for collaboration distant learning or presentations
- Call recording
- Private Calling with end-to-end encryption
- Hold web based conferencing for participants that don’t have Skype
- Make cheap long distance calls
- Receive calls on a local skype number from 26 countries
- Send SMS from Skype
- Share location
- Background blur
- Send files up to 300M
- Skype Translator
- Search within a conversation
- Forward calls
- Caller ID
- Share button
- Skype Connect
- Skype for Outlook.com
- Skype extension
These are now all standard features in Skype.
Skype for Business
One of Microsoft’s major changes was to split off a Skype for Business version, which it could use in its Office Suite of enterprise software. Consequently Skype for Business is the next step up from the standard Skype personal package.
Probably the most significant difference is that Skype Business edition comes with a windows installer package (MSI) which can be sent to all employees to ensure that the same version of Skype is installed on all corporate machines, this is a simple way to ensure version control.
Whilst speaking of control, a SMB deploying Skype in the business would also be wise to deploy Skype Manager, previously referred to as Business Control Panel. Skype Manager is a central administration panel that is accessible through a web browser that lets you setup, manage and report on Skype usage throughout the company.
Unfortunately, Skype for business is being retired as of 2019 with support ending in January 2021. In its place is Microsoft Teams which has been developed as the recommended Skype for Business replacement.
Check out more key functions of Skype Premium and Business for an SMB.
Some More Benefits of Skype for the SMB
- Big savings on telephone bills– If an SMB has overseas clients, suppliers, employees etc, then Skype is an obvious choice when considering the financial burden of communication.
- Chat and instant messaging– are also valuable tools for the SMB when communicating with their customers, suppliers and remote employees.
- Web integration– facilitates click to chat, click to talk buttons on the website for seamless connection through to a customer support agent.
- Presence Indicators– shows a contacts or advertises your own availability online
- Compatibility– works on almost any device; computers, tablets, smart phones, consoles and smart TV’s
- Plug-ins– many third party applications and adapters available
- Integration with Email– highlight telephone numbers and click to call
- Integration with CRM and Outlook– Caller ID recognition can open a relevant file or contact
- Keep in touch with expenditure– using Skype Manager to administer and manage Skype throughout the business
- Security– end-to-end encryption of all private communications
- Reliability and Call quality– both reliability and call quality have improved since the early versions and with increased high-speed internet and available bandwidth call quality is now not an issue.
- Integration– with an existing IP PBX for long distant trunks and security.
- Call Manager– set up, manage, administer and report on Skye within the business to control costs and improve quality of service.
For Further information visit Skype for business.