Skype For SIP: Sorting Through the Issues

sfslogo100px thumb Skype For SIP: Sorting Through the Issues Yesterday’s announcement of the Skype for SIP beta created lots of commentary in the blogosphere; it remained the leading topic on Techmeme for several hours.

  • Phil Wolff over at Skype Journal, in “Skype For SIP: Big Money, Skypeless, Brand Destroyer”, outlines some of the positioning with respect to Skype for Asterisk, channel schism issues and worries that it abandons Skype’s central tenants and could undermine the brand.
  • Alec Saunders, in “Skype embraces SIP; announces beta service for business users”, talks about the impact on businesses using legacy PBX’s, the increased pressure on international long distance markets and a reminder that about 1/3 of all current Skype traffic is business related.
  • Jason Goecke at Ahearsion, a Skype for Asterisk beta developer, worries about the impact on the market for Skype for Asterisk in “Skype for SIP = Skype for Asterisk DOA?

But most interesting was the Voice On The Web Public Chat session that ensued. Being on a vacation I was away from my laptop for about seven hours (yes, it was a great day to be golfing) but when I returned I found a session that not only provided the flavor of the vibrant debate going on but also many answers. The key – Chris Moore, Skype’s Senior Product Manager responsible for Skype for SIP joined into the discussion to make several points:

  • Most importantly – this is Skype for SIP beta; his team is looking for feedback from a range of beta testers, not only third party developers but also the IP PBX vendors themselves. To quote Chris:

    Yep, whole idea is to get feedback, see what people want/don’t want to help prioritize development of new features. Our group, Skype For Business, is getting a lot of focus and its a key strategic focal point for Skype now. We’ll never get it completely right at the start, but a start is still a start icon smile Skype For SIP: Sorting Through the Issues

  • To qualify as a beta tester you need to have some experience with configuring IP PBX’s that are currently in the market. For instance, “you must have, and be able to configure, your own SIP Enabled PBX that supports G.729 codec.”
  • Beta testers will need to create a temporary Skype name to use in the beta program; the issue of a separate SkypeID and how it was handled was hotly debated.
    One point to clarify:

    Skype for SIP actually can allow multiple Skype IDs to be mapped through to a single SIP identity. However, during the beta period, we are only supporting a 1 to 1 mapping due to the fact that Skype’s advanced Business Control Panel (BCP) configuration portal is not yet available at this time. If a company wishes to configure multiple Skype ID’s mapped to a SIP identity, we can accommodate this for a subset of the beta trial participants.

  • The key connections made by Skype for SIP are:

    - PBX –> SkypeOut (PSTN)
    - SkypeIn/Online numbers (PSTN) –> PBX
    - Skype Clients –> PBX

  • The business model, including pricing, has yet to be worked out. It will require Skype to determine a means to separate out business users from “consumer” users on both Skype for SIP and Skype for Asterisk. The principle here is that business benefits from the various features of these offerings; where such significant value-add exists there is a market for the services. But any pricing for either offering is yet to be determined, keeping in mind that both offerings’ desire to make significant market penetration will be a key moderator on pricing. Again quoting Chris:

    no new road is easy and enhancing our focus so Skype can support business users as a distinct group differently from consumers takes some work

  • Differentiation from Skype for Asterisk will be an ongoing challenge. Initially Skype for Asterisk, which will be an Asterisk channel, includes handling SIP—>Skype calls, Skype-to-Skype calls and will incorporate presence information. (My comments on an ignored aspect differentiating these are below.)
  • While SFS may incorporate some “Skype trunking” capability, SFS also offers the handling of inbound calling from Skype Online numbers.
  • As for the current status of SFS, Chris says the focus at the moment is on getting voice connections right as this is the feature most demanded in the market:

    and this is baby steps for Skype, there are many more UC services to come, voice for SIP is the biggest ask from customers. Video/presence etc only make  sense when codecs are common between skype clients and SIP endpoints.Some work left there!

  • Codecs are an issue. The initially supported G.729 codec requires licensing. The Skype for Business team is working on incorporation of G.711 within a few weeks but eventually hopes to assist with the adoption of the SILK codec across the industry by supporting SILK. But this also requires SILK support at the end points. Bottom line: codecs have both a technology and business issues to be resolved.
  • Security is an issue that will probably provide one of the major challenges as Skype opens up access to its cloud from both Skype for Business offerings.

My own observations, not having been around for the discussion:

  • Skype for SIP and Skype for Asterisk: the discussion yesterday centered on technical issues but totally ignored the market channel issues.
  • Skype for SIP requires working with the various IP PBX vendors who have their own distribution channels; Skype for Asterisk is a partnering project with Digium who has its own unique distribution channels. These channels are both looking for innovation that keeps them in business. Yes, the common issue is that SFS and SFA both threaten the long distance market, but the VAR’s and System Integrators in these channels will need new offerings that meet this challenge.
  • A significant challenge for both SFA and SFS will be the User Interface. How much will either of these products make the installation,  configuration and operational aspects so user friendly that outside support requirements are minimized or eliminated. This is a huge challenge in the SMB market as many small business owners will simply not want to be involved with such issues; they have their own business specialty to focus on. The value-add of VAR’s and SI’s serving any business market comes in making business communications low cost, seamless to the business operation and five 9’s uptime for their customers.
  • There is not one solution that will meet the complete world of business needs. Currently in this SMB space we have several vendors: Cisco, Microsoft Response Point, Avaya, Siemens, etc. The world would be up in arms if there were only one offering for providing the disruptive innovation for which Skype can provide support to these channels.
  • The issue of addressing consumer users vs business issues recalls the PC market twenty years ago when PC hardware vendors, initially Compaq, finally figured out how to differentiate and address these markets. This was a major issue I had to deal with in setting up a PC reseller network at the time. Today we see Dell addressing these various markets as soon as you launch into their website.

The Skype-enabled world is only healthy if there are alternative offerings and channels. Recall the theme of Skype President Josh Silverman’s reminder to the analysts last week: “Skype is a software company but we plan to be everywhere”. The Skype for Business group is focusing on making the software required to support these offerings; this software will leverage the IP PBX vendors and Digium distribution channels to drive adoption through into the various regional business market channels worldwide.

Update: While Om’s post, Skype Now Means Business, Friends the SIP World, demonstrates that he has not been following very closely the strategy being laid out by Skype’s new executive team over the past few months, the comment stream it triggered  is well worth reading. For instance, check out SFA developer Tim Panton’s comment about the opportunity for innovation he has found in SFA:

That aside, I’m a huge fan of S4A and our experience to date has been positive. We leverage the improved identity management (vs PSTN or SIP) and low costs of Skype to do some very cool integration with business processes and web applications by routing Skype calls through the extensible and scriptable platform of Asterisk. [author’s bold]

Next Post: Why Skype needs to get Skype Public Chat back into the latest release of Skype for Windows 4.0. The discussion referenced above demonstrates that this is the major failing of this version.

Update: Andy Abramson at VoIP Watch: Skype and SIP Equals A Takeaway of Toll Free

 Skype For SIP: Sorting Through the Issues

About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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4 Responses to Skype For SIP: Sorting Through the Issues

  1. Jason March 24, 2009 at 7:02 am #

    I am digesting your point in the post on the different business channels for SFS vs SFA. But in reality, many of those that were benefiting from SFA may now use SFS in much the same way. Look at Voxeo, they have happily had the equivalent of SFS for a while and provided some interesting apps in Skype-land. Of course, SIP -> Skype User is a good thing for all, but is involved in a reduced set of use cases.

    You may reduce the number of SFA channels you need, as you only need it for Presence and Asterisk -> Skype User calls. As SFS may now handle inbound and SkypeOut calling.

    It would not take much for Skype to add the additional user data available over SFA as custom SIP Headers and deliver those over SFS negating that SFA differentiation. Further, I suspect, through Skype’s public silence on the subject, that SFA channels will be limited for a single account to combat the same issues that keep SFS from doing SIP -> Skype Users.

  2. rmclaren March 28, 2009 at 9:47 pm #

    It will be interesting to see if there is an increase in the business uptake of Skype. I have not been able to interest my company of around 2000 employees and 100 offices in VOIP/Skype. Their attitude is that they can always squeeze AT&T for better rates that make the cost of moving to VOIP/Skype unrealistic. Perhaps smaller/newer companies with less invested in legacy landlines will be more interested.

    I also wonder if SIP-to-Skype is that important. Typically, if I am at a SIP phone, I don’t know if the called party is available on Skype. (This differs from Skype, where the presence information is available in the Skype client.) If I am trying to get hold of a family member, my first attempt is likely to be a call to the landline. (I’m talking here about calls to countries with “caller pay” in terms of cellular.) Calls to a landline in many countries are free; I use Betamax and have been calling the UK for free for years. If unavailable, my next call is to the cellular number; again, for example, calling a UK mobile number is around 7 or 8 cents per minute on Betamax. If I don’t get through, I’ll leave a message as I did today when calling my brother. He returned the call while hill walking after climbing half way up a Scottish mountain to get a signal from O2! The point being, I am unlikely to be using Skype to get in touch with someone when using SIP devices.

    I believe where the Skype/SIP connection comes into its own is to make sure that if someone is using Skype, he/she can get through to me by having access to a Skype-to-SIP interface. I am using Tropo and MySIPSwitch for this at the moment, but OpenSky or a box running SIPtoSIS would work. If I get a call from a Skype user, my first question is likely to be: “Can I call you back?”, at no or little cost. So Skype becomes no more than a call initiation protocol, with the actual communication be carried out by VOIP to PSTN or mobile.

  3. Robert Wolpov March 29, 2009 at 9:08 pm #

    I am waiting to hear more information about the “multiple Skype id to one SIP identity” concept. Does this mean that you will not be able to map SIP addresses to Skype ID’s? We have been waiting for this for a long time. It only makes sense that ultimately, you would be able to map any SIP address to a Skype ID.

    Our service, OnSIP is built on SIP addresses. Every user, application, phone number, auto-attendant, voice mailbox, etc. has a sip address that is private to each business’ personal domain. We would love to help our users be reached by and reach unique Skype IDs.

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