Skype – What’s all the hype?

By Chris Scerbo | Network Engineer | TechSolutions

Many of you have probably heard of or used Skype. It’s a fancy video conferencing tool that Microsoft recently purchased and a lot of the younger generations were introduced to through the Xbox. Originally one would use Skype to video conference with another Skype user. It also included some phone calling features the cellular companies didn’t like because being free, they competed against services they charge for. Well the platform has grown and not only does it have additional phone features, it can entirely replace a traditional phone. Certain Skype plans come complete with regionalized phone numbers, voicemail, very inexpensive long distance, and texting. So with the rapidly increasing popularity of Skype, along with the additional capabilities, I thought it may be useful to offer you some insight based on my personal experience as a seasoned Skype user.

While you obviously can’t replace the need for the cell phone, you can replace the need for the phone calling plan. You only need a data plan to use Skype on a mobile device that supports it. For the stationary office, it will essentially give your PC all the voice related features your cell phone has, but with a full size computer screen that prevents you from having to squint to see things. Knowing this, you should also be aware of some caveats.

Skype offers custom phone numbers at an affordable price, $60/year at this time. When purchasing, you are presented with a list of available numbers sorted by region. You are not likely to find a large bank of sequenced numbers, so this may not be the best option for business phone systems with multiple lines. Assuming the setup is for an individual office phone line or a home phone, that should not be an issue.

Another thing to be aware of is the fact that these numbers have likely been purchased by others previously. And while they would not be using the number any longer, after you purchase it the reputation they gained with that number will stick. This is especially a downside if they were using it for a marketing scam, which is the case with my number. Although I have yet to receive an angry phone call from a past victim, I’ve learned that my Skype number is listed on a very disreputable website list.

I use a gaming headset for my Skype phone, mainly because I had it laying around. What I have discovered though is that it has some significant advantages over what I had relied on previously – an office phone and a cell phone. My biggest complaint of our office phone system was the strength of the speaker in the hand receiver. I would have to jam it up against my ear and block it with my hand to hope to hear a quiet person on the other side of the line. My headset came with a little control box attached to the wire that has some dials on it that adjust the volume from zero to loud enough to make my ears hurt. I can also do the same with the microphone in case someone is having trouble hearing me. In addition, there is a physical mute switch, which comes in handy fairly often. The headset was about $50 from CompUSA, now TigerDirect, when I bought it 5+ years ago. I know they still have similar models. Worth every penny.

Good news for the Lync users out there, Microsoft is integrating Skype and Lync. Lync will get a new name, Skype for Business. More significantly though, Microsoft is dumping a bunch of money into the features of both. So expect changes for the better as those young platforms develop into a single mature one. This means that soon, all the Lync installations in corporate offices will support video conferencing between themselves and any Skype users. As an example, it could be used by someone calling in from another state for a job interview provided that both the interviewer and the interviewee use either Skype or Skype for Business. Employees will be able to connect via their personal home Skype instances as well and it will be fully integrated into their office and home workstations, especially laptops, out of the box. Video conferencing has long been the holy grail of office communications for small businesses. But now the technology has advanced to the point of having school-aged kids using it every day.

Skype is a great voice solution with a lot of useful features. It is my primary phone at this point for many reasons. Although I did not plan to use it, it was available with many features for free, and it has remained my voice solution. I am happy enough with it at this point that I do not see myself changing to any of the competitors. It’s also good to know that the platform will continue to evolve because it will be getting a lot of attention from Microsoft’s development teams.