What services does Skype offer?

Skype, pronounced like "type", is an Internet telephony or Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) network that uses the Internet or other networks to route voice conversations. Skype users can use their computers to talk to other Skype users for free. They may also subscribe to paid services that permit them to call traditional telephone numbers (SkypeOut), receive calls from traditional phones (SkypeIn), and receive voicemail messages. Skype software can be downloaded free from the official website, but it is still proprietary and restrictions apply to its use.

What Skype Offers

Skype enables people anywhere in the world to talk with each other over their computers. The basic Skype service offers users the ability to have free, computer-to-voice conversations, instant messaging and file-transmission via the Internet. In addition, Skype offers several other paid services:

The SkypeOut feature allows users to call almost any non-computer landline or mobile telephone worldwide. Conventional international telephone rates are based on the physical distances between the caller and the receiver, but SkypeOut charges are relative to the country being called. The volume of calls made to and from the destination country, the liberalization of telecommunications there and access charges are used to calculate the rate of the call. In this way, for a SkypeOut user, calling a number in London is charged the same wherever the user is calling from.

SkypeIn permits users to receive calls to their computers that are dialed from regular telephone subscribers to regular telephone numbers. The beta version of SkypeIn was released in March 2005, and as of early 2006 the service was available only in the UK, the USA, France, Hong Kong, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Estonia, Switzerland, Poland, Brazil and Japan. France, Germany and Switzerland give SkypeIn numbers only to residents of their countries.

Skype Voicemail, also released in March 2005, provides voice-mail facilities for Skype users who are offline, on another call, or otherwise indisposed. Skype Voicemail can be purchased separately and is automatically delivered with SkypeIn.

Development of Skype

Skype was started by Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, who also created KaZaA, a peer-to-peer file sharing application. The domain names Skype.com and Skype.net were first registered in April 2003, with the first beta version for public use released in August 2003. The first version for Windows and SkypeOut became available in 2004; by October 2004 Skype reached 1 million users online at once. In 2005, SkypeIn was launched, there were three million online at once and SkypeOut was banned in South China. On September 12, 2005, eBay purchased Skype for $US 2.6 billion in cash and stock.

Skype's Drawbacks

Because Skype code is proprietary, it has been widely criticized for causing difficulties when it interacts with other providers. Keeping it a closed source also means that it is almost impossible to establish how secure the software is. Line quality for Skype voice calls can vary dramatically, from as good as traditional telephone calls to nearly unusable. A time-lag can be caused by low bandwidth or remote routing, and dropout and hissing have also been reported. While the peer-to-peer nature of Skype means unlike other VoIP programs it can traverse Symmetric NATs and firewalls, it also means that it can use the bandwidth of users to route the calls of other users.

To find out more about Skype, or to register as a user, visit the official Skype website.