Getting Down to Business with Skype

Posted by at 5:22 pm on November 6, 2008

With the economy today people are looking for ways to save  money while strengthening their relationships with customers, partners and vendors. Communication is what keeps relationships happy and productive but maintaining them can raise costs when it comes to traditional phone service. There are telephone replacement services based on Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) like Vonage but most of those services just limit you to voice communications. What if you also want to have IM (Instant Messaging), video conferencing or the option of getting a phone number outside your local area or even in another nation? For the big boys, there are PBX services from Microsoft and Cisco that can address those needs but they are out of the price range for most home, small or medium size businesses. I have found Skype to be a solution that can level the playing field and address many communication needs.

Click play to hear  Mark McKinney, Vice President of LuraTech, tell us how LuraTech uses Skype everyday to save  money  and improve  communications  with clients, partners and employees.

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What is Skype?

Skype is technically a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service that is designed for free computer-to-computer communication to anywhere in the world over the Internet. It also has instant messaging, file transfer and video conferencing services. It is a free download for the Mac, Linux and Windows. You can communicate across platforms with IM, voice, video and file transfers. There are some add-ons for the Windows version, which are not available on the Mac or Linux platforms at this time.

For voice all you need is a microphone and headset connected to your computer to start talking. All computer-to-computer calls are free, whether they are IM, voice, video or even conference calls.

SkypeIn/SkypeOut -¦Your Mom Can Still Call You With Her Rotary Phone

The computer-to-computer communication is great but Skype has fee-based services to let you call landlines and cell phones too. Plus, you can even get telephone number(s) for people to call you while you are on Skype from traditional phones.

SkypeIn is the service to have a phone number attached to your Skype account. You just need to buy one or more phone numbers, which will be associated with your Skype user account. Then you can give the number(s) just like any other number.

This is very useful if you want to have a phone number in another area code or even another nation. I could have never afforded the cost of having a London phone number for people in the UK to call me at their local rates before Skype. Plus, if you are hunting down your dream job outside the area code you live in, it can be very useful to have “local” number for them to contact you at.

SkypeIn comes with free voicemail in the US, so people can leave you a message when you are offline.

SkypeOut lets you call landlines and cell phones. Skype Credits (pay as you go) are the first method of payment for outgoing calls which are billed at a per minute rate based on the country you are calling. You can buy Skype Credits in either $10 or $25 blocks. Skype Credits can also be used for SMS (text messages) and other Skype services. I have found many times that when you need to send an SMS to an international cell number, Skype can be cheaper than using your cell phone.

Skype Credit remains active for 180 days after your last use of a product or feature that uses those credits.

The other option is to pay a monthly subscription. Unlike most cell phones you get in the US, this does not require a long-term contract. For $2.95 a month there is a plan for unlimited calls to landlines and cell phones in the US and Canada. The Unlimited World plan at $9.95 a month gives unlimited calls to landlines in 36 countries. These monthly plans are also a great way to reduce your cell bill, since many coffee shops and hotels now have the broadband Internet you need to use Skype for voice calls.

No Emergency Calls With Skype.

Please know that Skype is not a replacement for your ordinary telephone when it comes to emergency services calling, such as 911.

You Can Even Make Calls Without a Computer

You can still use Skype even when your computer is off.  Belkin’s Desktop Internet Phone for Skype allows you to make calls to other Skype users without a computer. It also allows you to call people who use traditional phone systems via your Skype SkypeOut. Just plug the phone into your network via an Ethernet cable.

Netgear’s WiFi Phone let you do the same via a WiFi G and B networks. It supports WEP, WPA and WPA2 WiFi security. It can also be used on the Cloud and T-Mobile HotSpots.

There is a special version of Skype for Windows Smartphone or Windows Mobile. I recommend an unlimited data plan and you will need a 3G network or access to WiFi to use the voice features of Skype. Also, some carriers do block VoIP on their 3G networks.

You can even use Skype for voice calls on the latest version of the Sony PSP (2000 series) hand held gaming system.

Video, When Text and Voice are Not Enough

The ability to cut travel by having face-to-face meetings via video conferencing is a big money saver. Just as Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, did an interview with Oprah via Skype rather than being on the set in Chicago.

With the latest release of Skype for Windows you can get very high quality if you have Core Duo 2 or a similarly fast processor, a high-bandwidth internet connection (384 kbps and above recommend by Skype), and a Logitech Quickcam Pro.  I saw this in action for the first time back in January at CES, it was the first time I could hold a biz card to a camera and have someone else read it in a video conference using consumer level gear.

Security and Privacy

Skype has always had encryption for the IMs, voice calls and file transfers based on the industry standard AES (Advanced Encryption Standard). Skype uses 256-bit AES, which is used by U.S. Government organizations to protect sensitive information.

You may have seen some reports in the media about a security and privacy breach for Skype. That was not Skype but Skype’s Chinese partner, TOM. TOM provides a version of the product that meets China’s laws. The Chinese government has been monitoring communications in and out of the country for many years. Not just Skype but e-mail, cell phones, etc.

The take away is Skype-to-Skype communications are secure and private as AES. If the AES is ever broken, Skype will not be the only company to have issues; it is a widely used standard.

But if one or more parties are using the co-branded TOM-Skype client software, your security and privacy may be at risk due to Chinese laws. You can only be as strong as your weakest link. Even if you have an IM or call with someone in China using the co-branded TOM-Skype client software, the privacy concern is only for that call or IM. Once you are back to Skype to Skype communications you are back to full strength.

You can read the Skype president’s addresses on the Chinese privacy breach here.

Skype Means Business

I was first introduced to Skype by colleague from the UK, way before you could buy Skype credits in dollars, back then it was just Euros. This was long before eBay bought the company. While it has changed a great deal since those days, a big change this year has been way Skype has been getting positioned more and more to the business audience.

The Skype for Windows-Business Version makes it easier to deploy and manage Skype within larger business networks. This version uses the Windows Installer (commonly known as MSI), which makes it easier for your Windows network admin deploy Skype and set Windows’ group policies on to multiple machines.

Then there are Skype toolbars for Internet Explorer, Outlook and Microsoft Office to make it easier to make calls or send SMS messages. With the Office toolbar you can see when the author of a document is online and communicate with them. You can even send the file you are currently working on to your contacts.

The Business Control Panel is a free web tool that helps you buy and allocate calling credit to phones and mobiles, online numbers, and access other useful paid features across multiple Skype accounts your business may have.

One of the most exciting developments is the beta version of Skype For Asterisk, which will allow small and mid-sized businesses to integrate Skype functionality into Digium’s Asterisk PBX software. If you’re an Asterisk user, you’ll be able to make, receive and transfer Skype calls from your Asterisk phone. If you are thinking about updating your PBX, this is something to watch, it could be a game changer. You can read more about what this means at Stefan Öberg’s blog. He is vice president and general manager for Skype Telecom and Skype for Business.

There is more to learn about Skype and they have a great web site from which you can learn about the features not covered here. The good thing about Skype is you can start using for free and grow your usage as you get more familiar with it. A Skype ID is something every smart professional should have on his or her business card.

1 Comment for “Getting Down to Business with Skype”

  1. Case Study: LuraTech…

    Get a feel for how Mark McKinney, Vice President of LuraTech makes the world smaller using Skype in his business environment by listening to his podcast interview on Takes On Tech. He enlightens us on the following subjects: Avoid jetlag……

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