The big news for yesterday concerned Skype, the broadband based voice over IP (VoIP) chat client. Skype revolutionized online chat by using VoIP to allow users to actually speak with each other over the internet using the instant messaging client. Those conversations were free as long as both users were using the Skype client for the Mac or Windows. The Skype-Out service was later added allowing computer users of Skype to actually make calls outside of the Skype network and reach users of actual landline based phones. The Skype-Out service was available for a charge that varied depending on the destination of the call. Calls inside of the US were billed at 2 cents a minute.
Yesterday Skype announced that its Skype-Out service would be available free of charge to United States users through the end of 2006. Following that deadline, the powers that be at Skype will decide what to do. They will either go back to charging for Skype to phone support, or they might continue to offer the service for free.
Skype’s announcement follows the increased internet chatter concerning Vonage’s recent IPO announcement. Vonage, as some know, is an internet based phone company that uses broadband access to bring phone service to users at rates dramatically cheaper that traditional phone service providers. While Vonage’s services literally replaces the big bell’s service in the home, Skype still requires that users place and receive calls via their computers.
Skype’s announcement of free services is likely an effort to draw further attention to its product and possibly pull some of the wind from the sails of the Vonage IPO. Whatever the motivation, its Skype’s customers who are reaping the rewards of the announcement— at least until the end of 2006. At which time, no one knows what Skype might do to its rates.
This story would have made it to our site yesterday when the news hit, but when I tested the free Skype-Out service for myself I found it completely nonfunctional. I simply could not make a call from Skype to a landline. Web forums flurried with conspiracy theories as well as support request. In the end, it seems that Skype had somehow blocked access to some of the network address that major ISP use. This left the services useless for massive amounts of the population. That being said, I tried the services again, 24 hours after the initial news headlines hit, and the services now appears fully functional.
Most people have heard of VoIP by this point. The early adopters have already jumped on the bandwagon with dedicated services like those Vonage offers. With Skype now offering its service for free, it seems an ideal time for anyone interested in testing the technology to get their feet wet. Download and install Skype. It has support for all major operating systems and the price is certainly right. If you are happy with the quality of your phone calls, consider a more mainstream alternative like Vonage. Vonage utilizes much of the same technology as Skype, but it allows the use of an existing phone system and frees users from the tether of their personal computers.