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Disruptive Skyping

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An excellent article by Gordon Cook in strategy+business about Skype’s challenge to both telcoms and traditional companies. Skype is a
“softphone” — a software-based telephone that uses a computer,
cellphone, PDA, or any other equipment connected to the Web to deliver
voice with simultaneous file transfer and instant messages over the

It is different from the growing number of “voice over Internet protocol”
(VOIP) networks offered by phone and cable companies, because it is a
peer-to-peer system, creating ad hoc
computer-to-computer links over the Internet whenever Skype users want
to reach one another. The big issue here is that no central networks mediate
or manage the connection and so the user to user calls are free.
 Since its debut, Skype has signed up 35
million users and, at any one time, well over 3 million people are
logged into its network.

Those of us who use it, know how revolutionary it is and how it changed the voice communication and its cost. But as Gordon Cook points out, the road to Skype’s domination is not smooth as most corporate IT and telecom managers are trying to avoid Skype at all costs. It is for sound security reasons, but I am sure the idea that employees can be using something that is not controlled by the company and/or its IT department plays a role. But because Skype gives more control to the individual I don’t see how its progress can be halted without resorting to drastic measures:

Soon it will become imperative for larger
companies to take Skype seriously, if for no other reason than that
peer-to-peer architecture is one of the most efficient, most direct,
and least wasteful systems of digital interaction.

But perhaps the most lasting influence of
Skype will be that it will force management and IT executives to
consider how to structure a network that exists both inside and outside
the corporate firewall. To improve innovation and their own
productivity, employees will gravitate to the most advanced
collaboration and communications tools with the most reliable levels of
quality, no matter what price is paid in weakened security.

Indeed. The corporate firewall is a technological equivalent of the great business divide between the company and the ‘consumers’ whose porousness Cluetrain has so effectively pointed out. This is not a statement about no need for security but for looking at the landscape in a bit more peer-to-peer way, you might say…


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6 Responses to “Disruptive Skyping”

  1. Jackie Danicki
    on Jun 30th, 2005
    @ 10:37 am

    It is my understanding that Skype also places massive strain on a company’s infrastructure – it’s a huge bandwidth suck which, when multiplied over a company of as few as ten people, can be prohibitively draining.

  2. Michael Jennings
    on Jun 30th, 2005
    @ 11:59 am

    It is also true that more recent versions of Skype is more centralised than were older versions, and some information is now saved on a centralised server. Those irritating situations where you log onto Skype from a new computer and your contact list was missing and/or your permissions were set to the defaults rather than what you had set are now largely gone, and this is through more centralising. This is convenient, but in some ways not necessarily a good thing.

  3. ernest young
    on Jul 2nd, 2005
    @ 22:36 pm

    If Skype is such a heavy user of bandwidth, how come it works just as well over a 56kbps dial-up connection?

    Could that rumour of heavy bandwidth use be just another attempt to stifle, what, in my experience is a far superior service to VOIP services.

  4. Jackie Danicki
    on Jul 4th, 2005
    @ 11:26 am

    Ernest, I don’t know about rumours, but I know the drain on bandwidth that our company’s infrastructure manager showed me when multiple users were logged in to Skype. I also know from working with tBBC that when a few of us were logged in to Skype at the same time and having conversations, things would slow down noticeably.

  5. Michael Jennings
    on Jul 4th, 2005
    @ 12:38 pm

    If you have a 56kbps telephone line, you have exclusive use of it, and you have access to a 56kbps channel at all times. If a Skype connection uses 30kbps then there is space in the channel for this.

    If on the other hand you are using (say) a 512kbps internet link for your office, and that is shared between many users, most of them will in fact be downloading for only a few seconds out of every minute (at most). The different users will usually be receiving at different times, and this highly variable traffic from each of them will mean that the apparent connection speed they will see will actually be close to the full 512kbps, at least for a few users. (There are statistical rules to show how this apparent speed degrades with more users, but this is too complicated to go into here).

    However, put a 40kbps Skype connection in that channel, and its (largely) non-variable nature means that it sucks 50kbps from the connection, meaning that everyone else has only 462kbps to share rather than 512kbps. Two or three such channels sucking up bandwidth and everyone else may be sharing (say) only 300kbps.

    And the sad fact is that the nasty side of those statistical rules I was mentioning before is that apparent performance of multiple users degrades faster than linearly when the total size of the pipe they are sharing is cut like this. Cut the available bandwidth only a little and the number of users that need to be using the system for apparent degradation to be present drops quite a lot.

  6. ernest young
    on Jul 4th, 2005
    @ 13:59 pm

    I stand enlightened….

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