*For a limited time, to a limited geography, for people with the free Skype software installed on their computer and audio in and audio out device(s) equiped
Skype announced today that its SkypeOut service is going free for all calls in North America until December 31, 2006. So for the next seven months, until the end of the year, anyone using the Skype VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) software dials for free in Canada and the U.S.
Wow. That’s a big deal. The incumbent monopoly telephone companies must be a little trembly in their booties. The wire-line phone business continues to be a huge cash generator for them and this move feels like another blow to the phone-line business. I predict more folks with cell phones abandoning their land-line in favour of their cells for daily calling and VOIP for long-distance calling.
So what is Skype? It’s a free software application in the style of instant messenger chat program like AOL or MSN Messenger whose primary purpose is voice chats, not text chats. Hook up some kind of audio input and audio output device(s) to your computer, download the software from the Skype website, read their excellent how to get calling tutorial and you’re off the races. If you download the software and want someone to test it out with, my user name is JamesSherrett, so Skype me.
A few weeks ago I bought a Logitech USB headset just to use on Skype and I really like it. I can be working away online and see who among my contacts is available to talk when I need to be in touch with them. It makes for less-frequent emailing with some colleagues, replacing the back and forth of question and answer with a conversation. It’s quicker and more satisfying, and for those of us in the home office, provides a quick connection to the outside world.
So what’s the Skype experience like? Well, the sound quality is not quite as good as wire-line phones. Voices on both ends of the connection have a hollow quality to them. But overall the sound is comparable with cell-phone sound quality. The process of connecting is strong, with the ability to set your status from a few preset options (Available, Not Available, Do Not Disturb, etc.) and the ability to not answer calls. I understand Skype provides a voice mail option as well, but haven’t invested any time in figuring it out.
The benefits for me are that I use a headset so I can be doing other things at the same time, notably typing and mousing at the computer. In addition, Skype also lets you record calls, put calls on hold, provides call duration and allows for conferencing of up to 10 people. If you’re an advanced user, a whole community of add-ons are available from other software developers to extend Skype’s functionality through a developer’s API (Application Programming Interface). Search for a feature you’re interested in and, with over 3 million users online at any given time, you can almost be assured of finding someone else with the same desire. And, better yet, someone who has built something to address it.
I recommend giving Skype a try, even if you’re not interested in replacing your land-line telephone. Voice-over-Internet technology will be engineered into an increasing number of products in coming years, so that soon it will become an expected part of the user experience. The intimacy and connection that voice communication adds to interactions creates a bit of a destabilizing dimension of immediacy and closeness in online interactions. I prefer to deal with and develop tactics for this more-connected world when I want, at my pace, rather than having it happen to me. So trying out Skype made sense. Do you have any experiences with Skype or other VOIP applications?