For those of you who haven’t heard, the guys behind Kazaa have recently launched Skype, a new Internet telephony service. What’s the difference between this and the previous Voice chat and Internet telephony offerings? The Skype team, leveraging the knowledge they have in P2P software, seem to have created a solution that finally alleviates the user from the burden of worrying about Firewalls, NAT and the headache of their configuration.
Here’s the basic premise: you install the program, and it works. Now, I was a little sceptical when I first heard about this claim. So, I decided to give it a try. While I was at home, I decided to establish a call with a colleague at work who had installed the software. My home machine is behind a Linksys box, and the work machines are behind a locked-down firewall. Previous efforts to get some form of IP-based voice communication working have been fruitless; typically they required us to punch swiss-cheese like holes in our firewall. However, with Skype, I looked up my colleague in the directory, clicked on the dial button, and moments later we were in the middle of a voice conversation. The quality is not perfect – yet – however the majority of the time we were talking in crystal clear (better-than-telephone quality) audio.
I hope this marks the beginning of the next wave of user-friendly IP-based telephony solutions. There’s been a reasonable amount of activity in the Voice-over-IP arena over the past couple of years, especially with the growth of SIP and services like Free World Dialup and Vonage, the launch of SIPPhone, and the ongoing efforts of projects like Vovida, Asterisk, and Bayonne. Skype has a temporary problem in that it does not interoperate with any of these VoIP solutions, however they do plan on supporting both SIP and Plain Old Telephony System calling at a later date.
Ultimately these solutions give the consumer more choice over how to make voice calls. Applications like Skype push the barrier in terms of call quality and price (did I mention it is currently free?) Assuming the person on the other end of the phone has a reasonably good Internet connection, why would I want to pay 5-10c or more a minute to the phone company to route the call?