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Posts from March 2009

Skype for iPhone - All I Want From It Is....

skype_logo.pngIn case you've been under a rock, or are just tuning in from a long weekend, Skype is releasing "Skype for the iPhone" tomorrow and will apparently follow that with a Skype for the Blackberry application in May. GigaOm ran with the story last week, CNET came out with an "it's official" story last night and then seemingly everyone and their brother and sister came out with stories today about it. (Phil had nice pictures over at Skype Journal.) It's been a big day for Skype - and the formal launch isn't even until tomorrow. Expect that we'll see a large number of stories tomorrow when people actually are able to install the Skype for iPhone app and start playing with it. (And yes, I'll probably write one, too.)

What's fascinating and perhaps incredibly predictable is that almost all of these articles talk about how this brings Skype's free calling to the iPhone... about how this will make it easier for people to make cheaper calls... how it is integrated in with the iPhone Address Book for easy calling... about how this disrupts voice and calls... about how this will make cheap calls available... about how nice the GUI is... about how calls will be cheaper...... (Do you detect a theme?)


While all this is true, I personally don't really care. Sure, it will be great to be able to receive a Skype call and sure, it be great to be able to make a Skype call (all on WiFi of course). Sure, all that's great.

But there is one single thing that I am looking for in this Skype for iPhone application that has been missing from Fring, IM+, TruPhone and every other iPhone app that has offered some type of Skype integration. In a word, it is simply this:


Over the past several years I have become a huge user of Skype multi-user groupchats. Both for internal groupchats within organizations or companies and also for public groupchats where people have joined together to discuss common topics. They are an incredible communication tool - and no other iPhone app has delivered those for Skype.


The strength of Skype's multi-user chat facility is in its persistence. Once you join a groupchat, you will receive all messages to that groupchat until you actually go up to the Chat menu in the Skype client and choose "Leave Chat". Closing the window doesn't get you out of the chat - you must actually leave the chat.

The power here is that "all messages" means even those messages sent in the groupchat while you were offline. When your Skype client reconnects to the Skype P2P cloud, your client downloads all the messages sent to the chat while you were away. Within typically a few seconds you wind up getting a complete history of everything said over the past while.

Think of it as a conversation that never ends.

When you are traveling, you can be typing in the groupchat up until the time you have to board your plane. Land at your destination, pop open Skype, wait a few seconds or so, and... ta da... you have the full conversation of what happened while you were in the air. Or if you are being environmentally-concerned and put your computer to sleep at night (or power it off), when you wake it in the morning, after the sync, you get all the messages sent during the night - which, when you start working with global teams, becomes increasingly important.

Persistent groupchats are powerful organizing and community-building tools.

And we've not had this yet in an app that works with Skype on the iPhone. We've had person-to-person chats in apps like Fring and IM+, but not group chats.

So tomorrow, when everyone is trying out the Skype For iPhone app and testing the voice quality, whining about how it only works on WiFi and not 3G (Duh! Apple has forbid VoIP over 3G.), looking at presence, whining about how video isn't yet supported, looking at address book integration... none of those will be my concern...

I'll be looking at the groupchat support and pushing it's limits as best I can. I hope to be pleasantly surprised. We'll see.

UPDATE: I should have noted, of course, that multi-user groupchats are possible with both Jabber and of course IRC. However, while you might be able to configure certain clients and servers to supply some level of persistence, it is not on by default (that I have seen) nor as simple as it is with Skype.

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Skype to stream live news conference about iPhone app from CTIA - Tuesday

skype_logo.pngWith the rumors now being confirmed that Skype is releasing an iPhone app, Skype PR is putting out the word that they will be live-streaming their news conference tomorrow announcing the iPhone app. The details are:

Tuesday, March 31, 2009
3:30pm US Pacific time

You can be sure I'll be watching... ;-)

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Skype tears down more walls with "Skype For SIP"

NOTE: I have a few updates to the post that I am putting at the bottom of the text.

skype_logo.pngWould you like Skype users to be able to call your business' phone system? Would you like to connect your phone system to Skype's network and make use of their cheap calling rates? If you have an IP-PBX or other call server that supports the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), you may now have those options.

For a company that only a bit over a year ago was saying that customers weren't asking for interconnection, today Skype has done something rather dramatic and lowered their walls a bit more with the announcement of the beta program of "Skype For SIP". With this announcement from the "Skype For Business" group, companies with SIP-enabled phone systems will be able to receive calls from Skype users - and make calls using Skype's network at Skype rates. The news release (and blog post announcement) highlights these four aspects:

  • Receive and manage inbound calls from Skype users worldwide on SIP-enabled PBX systems; connecting the company Web site to the PBX system via click-to-call
  • Place calls with Skype to landlines and mobile phones worldwide from any connected SIP-enabled PBX; reducing costs with Skype’s low-cost global rates
  • Purchase Skype’s online numbers, to receive calls to the corporate PBX from landlines or mobile phones
  • Manage Skype calls using their existing hardware and system applications such as call routing, conferencing, phone menus and voicemail; no additional downloads or training are required

Let's take those one at a time - and then take a look at some details and what's missing.

[NOTE: For the ease of writing this post I am going to refer to the SIP system as an "IP-PBX", but it could be a "call server", "call manager", "application server" or anything else than can send and receive SIP signaling. It could be open source or commercial - that doesn't really matter.]


In a pre-announcement briefing, Chris Moore, a senior product manager at Skype, indicated that when the "Skype For SIP" service is fully released, the current "Business Control Panel" will be revamped a bit and will have an area where you can sign up for the service, identify your IP-PBX and associate one or more Skype names with your IP-PBX.

Calls from Skype users to those Skype names would then be routed across the SIP connection to your IP-PBX, where the IP-PBX would deal with those incoming connections exactly as it would any other incoming SIP connection. Call routing will be handled in the IP-PBX. Perhaps the incoming call will go to an auto-attendant, IVR, call-center software or other application. Perhaps it will be routed to a person. From the IP-PBX point-of-view, it's just another incoming call.


From a Skype users point-of-view, they are simply calling another Skype ID. It's a free call that seems just like any other Skype call.

You will, Moore stated, be able to associated multiple Skype IDs with your single SIP connection. Now I'm not sure what kind of call info you get across the SIP connection, but if you do get to see the Skype name the person is calling you could do some interesting call routing based on the Skype ID called. For instance, if someone made a Skype call to "companyname-help" it could be routed one way and calls to the Skype ID "companyname-sales" could go another way.

In any event, this aspect of the service makes it so that any Skype user can call your IP-PBX.


The second aspect of the "Skype For SIP" service is that you can use Skype's global network for connections out to the PSTN... what we have been generically calling "SIP trunking" for some time now. As part of the Business Control Panel registration you will apparently indicate which Skype ID is to be charged for outbound calling (what we used to call "SkypeOut") and then any outbound calls via SIP will be charged to that account.

Effectively, Skype just opened up cheap international calling to businesses everywhere using Skype's cheap rates.


The already crowded "SIP trunking" market just got another big player. Configure your IP-PBX to send calls out across Skype's network to the PSTN... and start calling. Right now the plan as I understand it is that you would pay the regular SkypeOut rates, without the subscription plans that are available to individuals. Skype's Moore did say that they may evaluate some form of plans during the beta period. As we see all these various details, we'll have to see what impact this will have on the existing players.


The third aspect of the announcement is that you can establish phone numbers around the world that will route to your IP-PBX via the Skype For SIP connection. Since, as I mentioned above, you are associating one or more Skype accounts with the SIP connection to your IP-PBX, you can also associate the "Online Numbers" (what we used to call "SkypeIn" numbers) of those Skype accounts with your IP-PBX.

So if you want a phone number in one of the 20 countries where Skype currently supports Online Numbers, you just buy the number for one of the Skype accounts connected to your IP-PBX.

For $60 per year per online number.

Not a bad deal if you want phone numbers in other area codes or other countries that will ring your business' phone system. Again depending upon what kind of caller ID and called ID info you receive, some interesting call routing might be possible.


(This assumes, of course, that Skype keeps the current pricing for Online Numbers and doesn't charge any additional costs.)


Skype's point here is really just that there's no additional software... it's just an inbound SIP connection to your IP-PBX that you deal with in the same way that you deal with all other inbound SIP connections.


Based on the conversations I had with folks from Skype about this new service, I do have a couple of comments and concerns:


Yes, okay, you would expect this of me. Obviously we'll have to wait to see the implementation, but it sounds like Skype has thought this through a good bit. They'll support the standard SIP digest authentication, but more interestingly they will support restricting connections based on IP addresses. If your IP-PBX - or more likely the SIP-aware firewall or SBC or edge proxy - has a fixed address you will apparently be able to enter this in and use that to limit inbound SIP connections. Skype also indicated that when they service moves out of beta into full production they intend to support TLS-encrypted SIP as well.

Similarly, on the media side the beta will support regular RTP but Skype is looking to support SRTP in the full production release.


In a somewhat bizarre move (to me), Skype is initially releasing this in the beta program with only support for the G.729 codec. For those who don't follow audio codecs (used to encode the audio of your voice to send across the network), the G.729 codec compresses audio and results in lower bandwidth usage. It also, unfortunately, requires the payment of royalties which typically then require the purchase of additional licenses from the IP-PBX vendor. (This is true even in the case of Asterisk, where you can purchase G.729 licenses from Digium.)

Given that the very people likely to want to use Skype's services for low-cost calling are also the same people who are probably not going to pay for G.729 licenses, it seems that there is a bit of a disconnect here.

The good news is that the folks at Skype say that they are going through the testing to make the much more widely used (and royalty-free) G.711 codec available and expect to have that ready within the first couple of weeks of the beta program.

On the wideband side, Skype folks indicated that at the point in time where there are SIP endpoints that support the SILK codec, which Skype recently said they will make available in binary form for free, those SIP endpoints should be able to make and receive calls to/from Skype users with wideband audio.

(I'll just note that Skype's rationale when I asked them about why G.729 vs G.711 was that they currently use G.729 with all their many SIP termination providers and so using that codec just seemed to make sense to them. For someone with the high volume of calls that they have who are looking to send as many as possible over limited bandwidth, that probably does make sense. However, in this era of more and more available bandwidth, I've seen many people, especially on the SMB side, less concerned about conserving bandwidth and just using G.711.)


I was pleased to hear Skype's Moore mention that they are looking at specifications like the SIP Forum's SIPconnect initiative as a way to help with interoperability from premise IP-PBX's out to Skype's service. Having been peripherally involved with SIPconnect, this is exactly the kind of situation that it's trying to address (interop between a premise SIP system and a SIP Service Provider). It would be great if Skype would formally get behind that initiative. (I can see certain SIP Forum people typing email as soon as they read this... ;-)


It's interesting to note what this release does NOT have - the ability to call from your IP-PBX out to a Skype user. You can call out to PSTN numbers via the SkypeOut connection... but you can't call a Skype ID. This isn't surprising, on one level, because this is a MUCH harder problem to solve. Basically every SKYPE ID would need a SIP address (a "SIP URI" in SIP-speak) that the IP-PBX could use to connect.

Several of us (myself included) have been asking for that kind of interconnection for years - and perhaps at some point we'll see that. Meanwhile, this "Skype For SIP" release gets us closer.


Over the years, I have written a good deal about Skype on this blog - and I have certainly been critical of Skype's closed network in the past (such as here and here). I don't like "walled gardens" in general and Skype has definitely had high walls.

That's certainly changing. I've definitely been pleased to see what they started last fall with "Skype For Asterisk" (which I wrote about here, here and here).

And now... "Skype For SIP".

If Skype implements this well, I think there is great potential. Suddenly, the millions and millions of Skype users are able to call your phone system... just via Skype. Forget dealing with long-distance or international calls. Just have someone use Skype to call your Skype ID.... ta da, it winds up on your corporate phone system via SIP. Similarly there is now the ability to easily project your presence geographically with phone numbers in different regions or countries - all through Skype's easy UI. Let alone the SIP trunking via Skype's network.

Granted, you can get the phone numbers and trunking through existing SIP service providers today. Skype just makes this a bit easier because they have the existing programs, user interfaces, etc.

Skype For SIP isn't perfect - it still doesn't get me the outbound calling to Skype users that I want - but it's definitely a step in the right direction as we continue building the interconnect between all these IP communications systems. (See my rant here and my Park Bench Manifesto presentation out at eComm)

Kudos to the folks at Skype for taking this step. For lowering their walls a bit more and letting others connect in. I definitely will look forward to seeing what evolves out of this.

Meanwhile, of course, I'll be heading over to and signing up for the beta program. :-)

UPDATE #1: (a few minutes after posting) Two items:

UPDATE #2: (6 hours later)

  • Moshe Maeir disputes my characterization of G.729 and says most of his customers use it.

  • Phil Wolff over at Skype Journal came out with his contrarian piece: Skype For SIP: Big Money, Skypeless, Brand Destroyer that argues that Skype For SIP is a negative thing for Skype. I disagree with a number of Phil's points (and would note that some of his info relates to the SFS *beta* versus the full announced release (such as the 1 Skype ID only limitation), but it's definitely worth a read.

  • Phil does make the point, reinforced in the SFS beta application, that during the beta you can only have one Skype ID associated with your Skype connection. Per the beta application, it also needs to be a "temporary" one, i.e. you may not be able to continue using that after the end of the beta period. Chris Moore at Skype indicates that this has to do with different Terms of Service and EULAs for business users right now versus regular Skype users and they are looking to rationalize all of that before the full product launch.



  • Rich Tehrani thinks that Skype should just call a spade a spade and refer to SFS as "SIP trunking", which is what we in the industry would certainly call the PSTN connectivity side of what Skype is offering. I think, though, that as much as we use that term, it is not widely used outside of our own industry. So as Skype seems to promote itself to the larger business audience, it makes sense to speak of it more openly as "placing calls", etc.

  • Irv Shapiro over at IfByPhone weighs in on "Why Skype for Asterisk is more important than Skype for SIP". Irv believes because SFA lets out make outbound calls TO Skype users it is ultimately more important than SFS. I agree with Irv that SFA definitely has advantage and value because of this.

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Oprah and Ellen push "Skype-ing" as a verb...

On Ellen Degeneres' TV show today (Friday, March 20, 2009):

Ellen:(very excitedly) How is this happening? Are you Skype-ing in? What's happening?

Oprah: Skype-ing in - that's exactly what I'm doing!

I learned of this in a Skype public chat where someone passed along the link to the Huffington Post article: Oprah Invites Ellen To Share O Magazine Cover. Having not seen either of the shows, I had no clue as to the backstory where apparently Ellen has been campaigning to get on the cover of Oprah's "O" magazine. Oprah was surprising (apparently) Ellen with a call via Skype video to ask her to be on the magazine's cover.

For me the most interesting part was that first little bit where Oprah and Ellen had the dialogue above about "Skype-ing".

Now I don't know if the mention of Skype is related to the sponsorship of Oprah that Skype began last year although that would seem reasonable. If it is, I'd have to say that Skype is getting some great mentions for whatever they are paying. If they aren't paying, it's perhaps even more powerful in that Oprah and Ellen are using the tool and mentioning it on their own.

UPDATE: Phil Wolff from Skype Journal tells me that Skype says that they did NOT pay for product placement. Oprah and her production team just like the tool.

Regardless, it's interesting to see. (And I want to know what kind of camera Oprah is using to get that great video quality!)

Here is the segment of the show:

Now of course the really "important" issue for us pedantic language types is... how do you spell "Skype-ing"? Is it:

  1. Skype-ing
  2. Skypeing
  3. Skyping

#1 looks funny with the hyphen, but #2 looks really wrong with the "e" next to the "ing". #3 would probably be the most proper, but of course the brand name is "Skype".

What do you think? :-)

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IETF 74 starts next week in San Francisco...

ietflogo.jpgThe 74th meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) starts Monday morning out in San Francisco. As usual there is a packed agenda with a lot of great discussions going on. This one is particularly interesting for those of us involved in the "Real-time Applications and Infrastructure (RAI)" area - which is all the various working groups related to SIP and other real-time communications protocols - as there are some proposals moving forward to rather fundamentally restructure the ways in which SIP-related work moves through the IETF. I expect there will be many involved conversations going on out there next week.

As much as I would like to be there, I won't be physically out at IETF 74. It's not my new role at Voxeo keeping me away, but rather this... oh... wee minor little detail that my wife is now five weeks from giving birth to our second child! :-) At this stage of things I'm severely limiting my travel - and flights across the country are definitely out.

Instead I'll be participating remotely, listening to the audio streams and joining in the Jabber chat rooms. Probably writing about some of it over on the "Speaking of Standards" blog I write in from time to time. The great thing with IETF meetings is that you can participate remotely (albeit obviously not to the same level of effectiveness as being in the room).

Lots of good stuff going on...

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Of eComm and boots...

Out an eComm last week, Jon Arnold posted a set of pictures that included this fun one of me (click for larger version):

For those not aware... I've been wearing "western boots"/"cowboy boots" for years... in fact, I wrote up a fun story a while back about how Twitter and Facebook helped me find cowboy boots in Ottawa.

(And boots purists will note, of course, that the pair pictured here at eComm are not really real western boots in that they don't have a leather sole. These are in fact my winter western boots that have a rubber sole with a tread. Smooth leather soles don't work too well in New Hampshire winters with ice and snow ;-) And while eComm was in San Francisco, I did have icy parking lots in NH to be thinking about. I'll be able to start wearing the other ones real soon now... )

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A view into Skype's business model...

skype_logo.pngEver wonder what Skype's business plan was really all about? Over on his VoiceOnTheWeb site, Jim Courtney dives into this with: Skype Business Model Revealed at eBay Analyst Event

The post is a deep dive that gives some good insight into Skype. Definitely worth a read.

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My new role at Voxeo: Director of Conversations

voxeologo.gifTwo weeks ago, I took on a new role within Voxeo, but rather ironically I've just been too straight out to write about the role change with the launch, our activities at eComm and, well, the new role itself. I've given some teasers in my Twitter stream, told a number of folks out at eComm and outright gave it away in my weekly report into FIR #426, but I haven't written about it. Some of you may laugh, but I also, quite frankly, find it a bit odd to write about, well, me. I prefer to tell the story, rather than to be the subject.

When I joined Voxeo back in October 2007, I wrote about the move and said that a part of my role in the Office of the CTO was this: Basically I get to help tell Voxeo's story. And for the past 1.5 years I've been doing that through blog posts and podcasts over on, through my external blogging, through my many presentations at all sorts of conferences, through Twitter and Facebook and probably a hundred other venues and services.

Now, though, telling Voxeo's story is no longer a part of my role... it is my role.

After four years in "strategic technology" roles where "social media" was a part of my role, I'm now shifting to head up Voxeo's marketing/communications/PR/AR/events/etc. - not just the "social media" but all of the traditional media and channels as well.

Those of you who know me may not view this as a big shift - I've always had one foot in technology and one foot in communications/marketing/PR. Even in my online writing. Just look at Disruptive Telephony and Blue Box on one side - and Disruptive Conversations and my weekly reports into For Immediate Release on the other. My job roles over the years have oscillated between those poles, sometimes heavily into tech, sometimes heavily into communications... very often a strong combination of both.

With this new position, obviously, communications/marketing/PR is front and center, but of course in 2009 in the Era of Search, SEO, social media and information self-service - technology plays a strong role.

I'm looking forward to it. Voxeo has some great stories to be told. There are some great conversations out there to engage in. Communities to help foster. I have an awesome staff to work with (who, like me, are distributed all around geographically). I report directly to a CEO who twitters, uses Facebook and is heavily into SEO. I am surrounded by some truly amazing people doing incredible work. It will be fun and frustrating and joyous and overwhelming and all the other polarities that come with intense jobs.

As to the job title, Director of Conversations, it's really a recognition that in the Age of Google and Facebook and reviews (in iTunes, Amazon, etc.) and Twitter and everything else, what we think of as "marketing" is increasingly all about joining into all the various conversations that are happening out there. Ten years later, many of the theses of Cluetrain are more true than ever. The conversations are happening. Our challenge is to find the most appropriate ways to join in.

That's the news... with that out now I can thankfully get back to the regular storytelling of this blog...

P.S. One amusing aspect of this new role is that it is now a zillion times easier to explain what I do. The title may be "different", but saying you "head up marketing/communications/PR" is more understandable to most people than saying you "explore and analyze how both the ways in which we communicate and the tools we use are changing and then write/speak/talk about those changes both publicly and to the company and customers" (my previous OCTO role). :-)

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The Park Bench Manifesto - text coming soon, video and slides now up

This week out at the Emerging Communications Conference in San Francisco, I gave a 10-minute talk called "The Park Bench Manifesto: Why We Want To Kill Off The PSTN". In the talk, I mentioned that the text would be available here soon... And it will be.

In the meantime though, I have put up both the video and the 54-slide deck over on <a href=""></a>

More soon..... (need to fly home...)