Skype for SIP: An Update on the Web Conversations

The Voice On The Web public chat has continued to be lively through the week. Not only has Skype’s Senior Product Manager responsible for Skype for SIP, Chris Moore, participated but a couple of other guests have joined the discussion to clarify some issues.

First to summarize Chris’ comments:

  • He is sorting through the overwhelming number of beta program applications with the intent to make accepted accounts live early next week
  • G.711 codec support is in the late stages of development and may be available as early as next week; this will be accompanied by a list of countries where G.711 is supported.
  • Chris has been taking input from participants with respect to SIP header information that would make Skype for SIP more broadly applicable. This, of course, leads into a discussion of going outside the “box” of SIP header standards. (SIP headers basically provide information that is transferred across a SIP connection.) More information from Jason Goecke at Adhearsion; Dan York at Voxeo has made an initial suggestion over at Github.

However, more significant have the the responses from Digium about their perspective on where Skype for Asterisk is positioned and the participation of David Tang, Vice President, Global Marketing at VoSKY in the Public Chat discussion.

Steve Sokol at Digium put up a post, “The Rumors Of Our Death” where he outlines key differentiators of Skype for Asterisk from Skype for SIP (slightly revised by Steve after feedback from Skype and chat participants):

  • SFA can handle incoming Skype calls directly from any user on the Skype network.  SFS can receive incoming calls from Skype users names that are statically mapped to a Skype name to a SIP account.
  • SFA can place calls to any user on the Skype network.  SFS cannot place calls to Skype users.
  • SFA includes support for Skype presence information.  SFS has no support for presence.
  • SFA includes buddy list management.  SFS has no buddy list management features.
  • SFA calls are encrypted from end-to-end while SFS calls are delivered to the SFS endpoint devices (PBX) as unencrypted RTP streams.
  • SFA supports multiple media codecs including G.711 aLaw and uLaw as well as G.729.  Wide-band audio will be available in a near-term revision.  SFS supports only compressed telephony-grade G.729 media streams.

Ultimately, the key differentiator is that SFA is designed to allow developers to build rich applications that are deeply integrated with the Skype network, while the SFS offering is a trunking solution for legacy IP-PBX systems that support SIP. Both have their place and neither is specifically competitive with the other. Both Digium and Skype are dedicated to Skype For Asterisk and both are working hard to make sure that when released it exceeds expectations.

Steve then goes on to discuss the current status of Skype for Asterisk, why it is taking so long to come out of beta and makes this important point about changes in the Skype Business Control Panel:

Enter the Skype Business Control Panel (BCP).  Skype’s Skype For Business division has launched an all-out effort to make business customers a corporate priority. Currently the BCP is simply a way to aggregate and share Skype credit.  As business services like SFA and SFS are rolled out it will take on a much more prominent role as the administrative interface for commercial customers.

The next update to the BCP will allow business customers to create master accounts that are owned and managed by companies rather than individuals.  With the BCP, Bob’s account would have belonged to AGI rather than to Bob, much like his AGI email account and company credit card.  If Bob went in search of greener pastures the system administrator could simply redirect his calls to another sales guy.

Jason Goecke has then put up his second post on Skype for SIP, Skype for Asterisk DOA; long live Skype for Asterisk, clarifying his positioning of the two offerings and concludes with:

The point is not to declare SFA dead, but to highlight these points in the hopes that the opportunities for deeper integration and the associated benefits are clear. For SFA to overshadow the SFS announcement, I contend these features are needed:

  • Two-way chat via the Manager API
  • Extended presence support
  • SILK-codec support, which would require end-points (ie – SIP soft phones/hardware phones) embedding SILK

I understand that Digium and Skype need to get SFA to market, but a clear roadmap of what comes next and the timing would be immensely useful as developers look to place their bets. I applaud the work that Skype and Digium have been doing and the opening of the Skype network on multiple fronts. I just hope this is an opportunity to open the Skype network that little bit more.

David Tang at VoSKY has also contributed to the discussion; his main point:

We have our fair share of scars from being an early pioneer working with Skype.  Digium is just beginning to experience it.

From the tone of a few comments re VoSKY in the chat and considering their long experience with Skype implementations in businesses, a large reseller network and their creative ingenuity, we can expect that VoSKY will figure out a way to  go beyond simply continuing to be a “Skype trunking” solution for legacy PBX’s lacking SIP support (non-SIP PBX’s).

Back to the Business Control Panel (“BCP”) and its role. To date it has simply been a means for an administrator to manage Skype accounts in terms of handling Skype credits and implementing Skype on PC’s within an enterprise. Going forward Chris Moore has made the following comment:

I think I’ve chatted about the BCP in some interviews, yes the BCP will take a larger role in administration for small business of existing and new services. It will be the central portal for an SMB to use Skype.

Seems that there are many of the Voice On The Web Public Chat who are ready to start experimenting and developing with Skype for SIP; I look forward to monitoring the feedback as they finally get their hands-on experiences. Bottom line: from these developers, Digium, VoSKY and others, Skype has launched a significant opportunity to see innovation at work solving real business communications issues.

Overall Skype is starting to execute on their Business strategy through the new Business marketing group. The Business Control Panel is central to this strategy. We now have seen three activities in that direction: Skype for SIP, Skype for Asterisk and the Lotus Live support.

Update: Chris Moore has confirmed that the first beta account acceptances have gone out today; login details and passwords will be issued Monday/Tuesday next week.

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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