The Skype for Asterisk Story — The Real Details

Phil has already pointed out the Skype for Asterisk news announced at Stefan Oberg’s AstriCon keynote this morning along with links to several blog postings and the news release. This afternoon I spent fifteen minutes talking with Stefan, Skype’s Vice-President and General Manager of Telecom, and Digium CEO Danny Windham to get more details.

First I asked who would benefit from the Skype for Asterisk announcement?

Danny and Stefan responded that the primary beneficiary would be the end user, especially small-to-medium businesses who have installed an Asterisk PBX. In particular:

  • A generic SkypeID, say “acmesales”, could be setup for inbound calls to the PBX; think of this SkypeID as a “global 800 number”.
  • The Asterisk PBX would then be able to hand off the call, as appropriate, to a call center, voice mail, IVR, conferencing and click-to-call from a website, amongst other Asterisk-based services and functionality.
  • Each employee or agent can also access the PBX via individual SkypeID’s for taking inbound calls (including calls directed from the generic SkypeID) or placing outbound calls.
  • Outbound calls can be placed to any location worldwide, either to a Skype destination or, via SkypeOut, to the PSTN in any country.
  • Outbound calls can be to customers anywhere worldwide
  • Also the PBX with its Skype inbound/outbound call handling can serve to provide internal company communications amongst offices worldwide. Remote employees are simply at “extensions” of the Asterisk PBX.
  • As with any VoIP-based service, agents can be located in remote offices, work from home or be available in any location where they have set up a Skype-enabled PC with broadband access.
  • Asterisk PBX already can be programmed to handle least cost routing of international calls; the Skype cloud will be added as an option for least cost routing.
  • Calls that involve Skype at both end points will have the full HD (wideband) audio bandwidth of Skype, providing clearer, more readily understood calls than those that involve a PSTN connection at one end.

Naturally the major benefit to end users is the cost savings; Skype to Skype calls are free; calls involving SkypeOut have the normal SkypeOut charges as low as US$ 0.021 or €0.017 per minute. (On SquawkBox this morning Jim Kohlen of the VON Coalition estimated full implementation of VoIP throughout the U.S. could result in savings of up to $110B per year.)

I then probed about the extent of Asterisk installations. It turns out that there were over 1 million downloads of Asterisk via Digium last year; this year is on a run rate of over 1.5 million downloads. Danny estimates there are over 4 million active Asterisk servers worldwide that have been implemented and/or supported by Digium’s various services. Since Asterisk itself is open source, it is speculated there are many more installations out there that are not supported through Digium.

Product: Skype for Asterisk will involve a software module, developed in conjunction with Skype, that is downloaded and compiled onto an Asterisk server. Premium packages will also be available from Skype; these will be comprehensive packages tailored for various business functions and include the Skype Business Control Panel. There may be opportunities to include Skype Partner products and services, such as Pamela and/or PamFax. There will be “low” monthly licensing fees for use of the basic software module as well as the premium packages.

Distribution: Here is where this agreement is significant for Skype. Digium has an established ecosystem involving a market place, technology partners and Value Added Reseller partners (VAR’s). For the VAR’s Skype for Asterisk will be an incremental Digium reseller offering (channel driver) for which they will receive commissions for both the software licenses and premium packages described above as well as for all SkypeOut traffic brought through their customer bases. These VAR’s are responsible for implementation services as well as providing first level technical support to individual customers using Digium products and services.

The Beta program will involve two phases. Phase I will involve a limited number of participants to finalize the software while obtaining feedback from user experiences. Phase II will be a much broader public beta to provide both extended feedback as well as to train VAR’s and even end users on implementation and use of Skype for Asterisk. The beta program will require the use of version 1.4 or 1.6 of Asterisk; Skype for Asterisk will only support these versions once the commercial version is available.

As Rich Tehrani stated in his post:

What this means to Skype is that company has finally found a way to get into the enterprise in an easy way — by partnering with Digium/Asterisk which has great traction with developers, resellers, carriers, SMBs and more. Expect more enterprise use of Skype and as this happens, Skype should see more revenue from business users.

And to narrow down on Dan York’s speculation about any Skype-to-SIP gateway:

  • Any existing SIP interfacing functionality within the Asterisk PBX will be available as appropriate to reach non-Skype extensions involving a SIP interface.
  • The only additional Skype-to-SIP functionality will come through the existing SkypeOut gateways.

To follow on from my comments yesterday about the need for business transactions related to crossing a SIP interface, both these SIP interfaces will associate with existing business agreements.

Skype has been hinting at major announcements during the fall; this certainly has to be a significant new revenue channel for Skype while bringing new services to Asterisk end users and new sales opportunities for Asterisk resllers.

About Jim Courtney

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

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