Latest in

Image credit:

My gripe with the hype around Skype and five good reasons why you shouldn't cancel your other phone services just yet


I've been giving a lot of thought to all the hype that Skype has been getting as of late. So much has been said about the great aspects of Skype, of which there are a few, that in the interest of balancing this with a bit of perspective on the downsides, I thought I'd throw a few of my own opinions into the ring for you all to chew on.

Before we can really talk about what Skype is, and why it's good and cool and innovative (oh...wait, it's not really innovative), we need to be clear about what Skype is not. Skype is not a new concept and Skype is not a replacement for your other phones. It may be good for calling your other geek friends (I do) and it may be good for calling your possibly tech savvy parents in Florida, but don't try calling grandma or grandpa.

I'm not trying to bash Skype here. I think it's an interesting and innovative solution in the sense that, well, it's free, but it's not the first of its kind. Ever heard of Net2Phone or the more or less defunctNetMeetingwhich also added video conferencing but never got around to allowing you to call peoples land lines? There are others as well. Not to mention the recent offering from BT / Yahoo.

To be clear, the main difference between Skype and those other services, from a technology perspective, is that Skype has adopted something of a Peer to Peer (P2P) methodology for facilitating communication.  Skypes roots are deeply ingrained in the more or less unrecognizable Kazaa after all.  Yet, as far as I can see, the only main differences with Skype, and you can read about them on their site, is that the user directory is distributed and communication is point to point encrypted.  So, once you are authenticated, you don't need to contact the central infrastructure again and theoretically, you don't need to worry about privacy.  But make no mistake about it...You do need a central server to authenticate and seed the client with information about the network.  Just like all the other services.

First, one could argue that these are advantages in the sense that you don't have a central infrastructure being bogged down by routing thousands of concurrent conversations or requests for information about the network.  Voice traffic does have some significant issues with latency.  read about my personal experiences here.  With Skype, once you login, that's it...its up to your broadband link speed unless you're using the SkypeOut service to call a land line.  Also, if you consider that traditional VOIP carriers cannot offer point to point encryption for the commerical or corporate consumer...score one for Skype.

Second, PC to PC calls are completed without the need for a central infrastructure.  Score two for Skype...AND the other services that I mentioned earlier who have been doing this for much longer then Skype.

My main gripe is that Skype is trying to redefine the terminologies VOIP and P2P for their own purposes.  Sure this is not a major crime, and it has been done numerous times where a company has hijacked terminologies for their own purposes, but I didn't like it then and I don't like it now. 

One can certainly argue that Skype is a VOIP service as your voice IS being transferred as a data stream to a receiving client, but Skype is not a traditional VOIP service such as Vonage, Packet8 or offerings from Verizon (VoiceWing), AT&T (CallVantage) and some of the local cable providers, such as Cablevision or Time Warner Cable, that I am familiar with in the Northeast.  In my opinion, by borrowing those terms, Skype, other then creating some buzz, is doing more damage to the VOIP industry then good.

Traditional VOIP services require some additional hardware at the carrier (a SIP gateway) and at the client, a SIP client in hardware (a digital to analog converter for your broadband connection that talks to the SIP gateway so you can connect your home phones, faxes, etc...) or in the case of a soft phone, a SIP (software based) client...there are a few good ones out their, but make no mistake about it, Skype is not one of them.  Sure, they could build this into their client if they wanted, but the smart money says that this is not in the cards for Skype.  They are all about owning the gateway (their SkypeOut service) to landlines and keeping people captive, just like their predecessors.  This, in my opinion, is reason number one that they are going to do as well as they would like.

But I digress.  Here are a few more reasons why I don't think that Skype is  going to be a replacement for your landline or cell phone any time soon.

Reason number one that Skype is not a replacement for your phone line

...You can't receive calls from land lines, traditional VOIP services or cell phones.

Unless every single person that you talk to and every single person that you can ever conceive of talking to and every single person who you can ever conceive of wanting to call you also uses Skype, don't get rid of your land line or cell phones yet.  Why?  Plain and simple, you can't receive incoming calls from a landline or a non Skype user.

Ever tried calling someone from Skype?  You don't have a phone number identifiable by caller ID. 

So, reason number one that Skype is not like a Soft Phone is NO INCOMING CALLS from LAND LINES or CELL PHONES.  Let me be clear, this includes all VOIP service providers such as Vonage or Packet8.

Reason number two that Skype is not a replacement for your phone line...

...No location awareness and No 911

No 911, AT ALL.  Unfortunately, Skype does not offer 911.  There is no way for them to know where you are.  Just like the traditional VOIP providers have done, Skype could put together a pseudo 911 routing service with direction of 911 to local emergency access numbers set when you register with them.  But I don't think that this is in the cards,'s a bit early.

Reason number three that Skype is not a replacement for your phone line

...You can't use your land lines or cordless phones

Skype does not offer the ability to bridge your wired or cordless phones to their services. So, the only place that you can make calls is from your PC, or PDA, if you have one with wireless access all over the inside and outside of your house.  Therefore, unless you can carry your PC around with you or rest it on the side of the inflatable raft while floating around in your pool...this leads me to reason number four.

Reason number four that Skype is not a replacement for your phone line

...WiFi just isn't pervasive enough...Yet.

Don't think that you can replace your cell phone just yet.  WiFi isn't pervasive enough, yet, for Skype clients running on PDAs to be considered useful except in very very niche circumstances.

Secondly, WiFi roaming is not yet supported. Sure, many of the main "carriers" like T-Mobile, Pronto, Verizon, etc... are going to work on this, but it's still not in their best interest financially as the use of this technology for roaming has not yet reached a critical mass.

Reason number five that Skype is not a replacement for your phone line

...You can't take your address book with you...

When you log into Skype from a desktop PC and add contacts, then log out and login from a laptop, you have to add all of your contacts again.  Why?  Its P2P Stupid...all the information is stored on the client and Skype hasn't yet given us a way to export our contact lists or store them in their servers.  This is very very frustrating, particularly when you ask the same person to authorize you three times (once for your desktop, once for a laptop and once for a PDA).

I'm very interested to know what you all think about Skype.  Please feel free to write me and let me know.

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr