The Skype Approach to VoIP - A review of Skype
By Hamesh Brown
With internet usage reaching almost every country, and economic class, and with its permeation throughout the western world, applications designed to harness its potential in ever more practical ways are constantly arising. One such application is Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP), which continues to challenge its own limitations. There are a few leading players who are jostling for supremacy, including Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger, Skype, and Vonage.
Recently, there have been many converts to Skype, including this reviewer. There are several factors that have influenced my own personal move, but my primary motivations were innovation, quality, and marketability. VoIP has always been an application that is easily marketable, and Skype has added innovative features that are quality-rich:
• SkypeOut, where you can use your computer to call ordinary phone numbers all over the world. The global SkypeOut rate is currently 1.7 Euro Cent (about 2 US cents or 1.1 pence) per minute to more than 20 countries.
• SkypeIn, which is a virtual phone number your friends can call. This is in beta testing at the time of writing this review, but the 12-month subscription is available for € 30 and 3 months for € 10.
• Skype Voicemail, which lets you redirect calls to your voicemail, is available at € 5 for 3 months or € 15 for the year.
However, the most widespread application of Skype is PC-to-PC calls. Any user can make free calls over the Internet to anyone else who also has Skype. It is a simple wizard-based process to download and use the application, and works via your broadband connection with operating systems based on Microsoft Windows, Mac, Linux, and Pocket PCs. All you need is a PC microphone and speakers or a basic USB headset, and what you get is a real-time, telephone-quality voice conversation with any PC end-user in the world. I found the downloading to be extremely simple and straightforward and imagine that anyone, no matter your computer fluency will find it easy as well.
In addition to its ease of setup, the features of Skype are really impressive. There is a facility to search the Skype database, so that you are able to build a list of contacts. We have used Skype for Windows 1.4 for a PC-to-PC conversation between Los Angeles and Mumbai (India), and there was no recorded break in the half-hour call. The clarity was definitely on par with a normal telephone, perhaps even better, with no noticeable time lag. On subsequent calls between these destinations and other US cities including Chicago, the quality continues to amaze us, and the fact that Skype works in most environments, irrespective of firewalls or NAT, widens its reach.
So, what's the downside? A comparative analysis will help clarify the situation. For a start, Skype does not offer as many calling features as other service providers like Vonage. Then, there have been question marks about the technical/customer support offered by Skype. Another point where Skype loses out is the quality of the SkypeOut package, where the calls made to landlines are of inconsistent quality. One hopes that Skype can add video chat to its repertoire in the near future, which will place Skype on an equal standing with other free VoIP providers like Yahoo! Messenger and MSN Messenger, which already have video capabilities. Skype is undoubtedly ahead of both MSN and Yahoo in terms of voice quality and the real-time conversation experience. On the other side of the spectrum, Vonage offers feature-rich services and better customer service, although all this comes at a price.
My Overall Assessment: Vonage is a better option than Skype for traditional telephone users because Skype is totally computer-dependent and caters to consumers who are "living out of their computers."
The future has a lot to offer, and undoubtedly Skype will move forward in its evolutionary process, and hopefully improve SkypeOut and emerge successfully out of beta testing for SkypeIn. However, for the moment, Skype is arguably the best option for free PC-to-PC calls. Skype says that the "current focus is to make the best voice-application on the planet"—judging from user feedback around the world, Skype has already gone a long distance towards that objective.
About the Author
Hamesh Brown enjoys writing about VoIP. See http://www.voipreviewsonline.com/2005/10/skype_review_1.html for another Skype review.
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| Some other articles by Hamesh Brown|