September 29, 2008

Skype: Amazing Value?

Skype: Amazing Value?

In the past I have been a little sceptical about Skype and a look on the Wikipedia entry highlights some of the issues that have occurred in the past.  I was rather pushed into trying out Skype because there is no such thing as a 'free lunch' as the well warn cliché goes. Howver with my better half going off to halls of residence as a mature student for her last undergraduate year and with the need to make overseas phone calls an affordable voice communications system was needed. Already 2 colleagues on her course were using Skype with the altrnative being mobiles which is obviously costly. As a result we started to investigate.

After reading a bunch of reviews on the the various Skype headsets and handsets available I ordered a usb phone wireless handset. The advantage of this is that one doesn't have to be tied to the computer. It has a claimed 50 metre range although I can't confirm that, but certainly it is fine around the flat.  As I'm the sort of person who inevitably manages to mess up installations which reviews and manufactuers insist makes boiling an egg the equivalent of nanotechnology I was pleasantly surprised to see that I got the system up and running pretty quickly and with no major issues and my ego intact.

A really big advantage of the system is that you can ring other landlines directly whether in your country of residence or abroad. While it is not free the cost is remarkably small and beats other competitiors hands-down. You will need to buy some credit from Skype to be able to do this. This Timesonline article of 2007 suggests that with the exception of BT Skype is expensive for making calls to other phones.  For example  it suggests that calling abroad via an access number is cheaper than Skype:

Yet Skype Out isn’t just beaten by other Voip providers, it is beaten by normal phone companies too — specifically several small firms where you just dial an access number to connect from your normal home phone. They are called override providers because they override your normal phone company’s charges, and you pay theirs instead (Timesonline 2007)

There are a lot of comments on this article which might be useful if you are thinking of investing in Skype. Well, needless to say we are keeping an eye on this because we have been using an access number to ring abroad. Currently Skype seems to be cheaper to some countries, but as with all these systems the charging structures are very dynamic and one needs to keep an eye on this. Where Skype really comes into its own is when ringing another Skype account holder. This means that the call is free.

That phone went off to university, however, I have now ordered one for me to use which shows that I'm convinced by the technology and general ease of use.  Currently the phones can be ordered via Amazon and have an excellent delivery time. (Type in "For Skype Phones" in the Amazon search box if you are interested and a good range of products come up). These wireless ones are more expensive but I think most people will value the convenience. With P&P they are around £34 each but I fully expect to have recouped that outlay within a few months at the outside. What Skype does is start you questioning why calls from conventional telephone systems are so expensive.

As Skype & other VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocols) become less the arena for those who are more familiar with computer technologies this will put increasing pressure on conventional phone companies to drop prices. If you make a lot of calls or would like to make more, Skype is currently providing an excellent opportunity to make this a low cost activity, however please remember that you will still need a conventional phone system (landline or mobile) as you can't do things like make emergency calls via Skype. Doubtless time will tell whether the systm is cheap and reliable. If problems emerge than I will post on these, however, one must always remember that there are plenty of problems with alternative systems as well.

As mentioned in the Wikpedia entry  there are some security concerns when it comes to firewalls and Skype as peer to peer networking worries administrators as the Heise Security site points out.

Skype itself is now owned by eBay which might be a put off to some. EBay bought Skype in 2005. Overall the benefits seem to outweigh the downsides so be cautious but don't be put off, is my general position.


Timesonline: Ignore the Skype hype

Wikipedia entry on Skype

Heise Security article in Skype and Firewalls

About Skype from the Skype Site

Seven Things You Should Know About Skype

An academic collection of papers on Skype

Currently Skype is outside of the Wiretapping laws in the USA

Mailonline Septembr 2008: Taliban use Skype phones to avoid MI6

Guardian Review of July 2008 of Skype enabled mobile phone

University of Huddersfield has a Skype enabled office environment

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