What are some economic, privacy, and security implications of the new Skype VoIP technology?
Taking the opportunity offered by the above question raised by one of my readers, Jermaine Arphul, and by the response posted yesterday by Anon, I engage myself today in a little excursion over some of the critical aspects of Skype and analyze some of the myths and false truths that the Internet buzz has been spreading.
See my comments in standard text and the original answer-post by Anon in italic:
Economic - companies save a goodly amount on conference calls if this feature is ever implemented. Other than that, not much for now.
Realistically, if you are in Italy and wanna talk to someone in Canada, chances are it will be easier for you to find a phone rather than a computer with a relatively decent connection and a headset. This may change eventually.
I find myself in a different position. Probably I am not a typical user or a standard consumer but my situation is as follows:
if from Italy I want to call Stephen in Canada, I first check that he/she has a computer and I email him or instant message him. Second step is to gently inform him and invite him to try out my private voice room or whatever other voice communication tool I may have setup privately for me.
Case 2. Even when it is a company in North America or Canada that wants to talk to me, to give me a demo, or to showcase a new service, I ALWAYS invite them to try out my no cost, no-phone solution, and if they prefer to go with the traditional and expensive solution I don't offer any resistance.
Point is, you can't expect things to change all of sudden. You need to do your own evangelizing and to educate gently your friends and partners. By doing so I have increased ten fold my savings on the phone bill, while hardly loosing any exchange of good ideas with my partners and suppliers.
I make very sure that if my correspondent is a non-technical user the voice communication tool I choose is as simple and straightforrward to install and use as possible. Skype is one of these.
The thing that interests me is that tens of thousands already using Skype are now placing calls by screen name, not phone number. That may truly be the wave of the future...cell phones already use digital and packet based communications, so calling someone by typing in a name without bothering with a number is easily possible in the not-too-distant future.
Just like we refer to Web sites by name and not by their IP address it would seem only natural to develop and adopt an effective DNS that would be able to resolve any persons name to a phone number of IP address. SIP, from what I udnerstand of it, may be play a very important role toward these changes.
Privacy - don't let anyone who isn't on your friends list place calls to you and you're set. It may really be that simple, and is certainly not something you can do with an ordinary telephone. That in and of itself makes it worth the effort for those of us sick of sales calls.
This is an important point. It actually brings to the surface another important fact. With Skype, unless you select not to receive calls from users you don't know, you are really open to be called by anyone who decides to do so. While this may be a temporary enjoyable experience for those seeking chat partners, it is the least interesting for anyone trying to carry out serious work with these technologies.
On the tracks of what instant messengers have long prototiped and refined over the years, Skype has fully realized that privacy is a very important issue and that is the end user to decide who can be allowed to call in.
Security - Skype is encrypted and routed over the Internet... intercepting a conversation that goes on for any length of time would be difficult unless you were near an end point due to the flexibility of internet routing (especially from, e.g. Italy to Canada). Decrypting what you get would also take a lot of time. Essentially, your real time communication is safe...someone may decrypt it tomorrow or a month from now, but not in real time unless they already have the key. Of course, they can save it indefinitely until they do decrypt it, if they feel the need (decryption requires serious processing power, serious amounts of time, and thus serious desire to hear the conversation).
This is true but this does not define security in a way that is sufficiently close to my actual needs. While Anon may be very right about the difficulties surrounding any attempt to decrypt a Skype-based voice conversation, such approach to securing the transmission channel completely overlooks the need to be able to assess with a bit higher degree of certainty who is actually on the other hand of the conversation.
If I am so keen in wanting that my conversation with a CEO of another company or with a new remote doctor are secure, why do I not care to make sure FIRST that the person on the other hand of a Skype/VoIP/virtual conversation is actually the person he/she claims to be?
Does anyone know what audio sampling/compression they're using? It sounds amazing good but there is barely any delay, so I assume it must be something new and proprietary.
Not so. Skype does suffer from significant audio delay and latency problems under particular circumstances. Anon is probably lucky enough to have conducted only Skype conversations with North-American based users who are also on high-bandwidth connections.
In my extensive tests and trials I have seen Skype become next to unusuable when having conversations with users in not so well connected countries, when users are not on a high bandwidth connection, and also when users had excessive processing power engaged by other simultaneously running applications.
Skype is not the best VoIP tool on the market and give that it is still in Beta, I can certainly expect some significant improvements by the time it comes out with version 1.0.
There are other SOHO VoIP tools which are outstandingly better than Skype in terms of quality, reliability, latency and ability to work on any type of connection line, from 14.4 Kbps and up. Anyone who asserts to the contrary has not been telling you the truth.
Skype is not exempt from other type of problems as well, including mostly issues of usability and missing key functionalities that would be essential for a professional use of this tool.
While Skype remains the outstanding VoIP free tool the buzz keeps reporting, it is good to be aware that Skype is not alone in this rush to success and that there are tools that can ideed give you 100% of what Skype is only hinting at now.
Skype greatest strength and ability is exclusively in the magistral cleverness and determination used in combining two uniquely powerful marketing communication forces into one:
a) the extreme reach (Skype's owner experience with launching Kazaa has taught them some good lessons while leaving them with tens of millions of registered contacts)
b) the integrated viral marketing aspect of VoIP, where if you want to show off what you have got, you need to have at least another person discovering and using your new tool.
N.B.: Too bad that none of the many other talented VoIP companies out there has not grasped and leveraged these two basic fundamental concepts so far. They all went for the "money first" proposition and now they can look at Skype as it blazes above them at the speed of light:
Over 2 million users in less than 2 months!
You be the judge.
- Please Skype Me: Disruptive P2P VoIP Technology Allows You To Call And Talk Free To Any Windows PC
- Is Quality Voice-over-IP Ready For Prime Time?
- Live Web Interaction Is Ready For Prime Time: How Can You Do Without It?
- Best New Tools For Web Conferencing And Live Collaboration
- Is Quality Voice-over-IP Ready For Prime Time?