Skype for SIP targets business customers

New service enables Skype client software to connect with corporate IP PBXs

Skype is making its second run at corporate business with a service that lets its peer-to-peer VoIP clients interact with existing IP PBXs, and this may be just the start of a larger push.

The attraction would be the low international phone rates that Skype charges users of its VoIP client as well as the integration of phone calls as elements of Web pages, the company says.

The new service, called Skype for SIP, goes into beta testing today, with a full rollout due later this year. It requires that customers already own SIP-based PBXs configured to interoperate with SIP gear in Skype's own network.

Skype says it plans to announce more business services throughout the rest of this year, including Skype certification training for business telecom staffers. It would teach them to configure SIP gateways to be compatible with Skype's network and recommend corporate infrastructure that could enhance Skype's performance.

The company also plans to launch a help desk for business customers via a third party, the company says.

Diagram of how Skype would work

Last fall the company launched its Skype for Business division that rolled out its first offering, Skype for Asterisk, an integration of Skype's client with the open source Asterisk PBX to enable use of the client as a softphone in Asterisk deployments.

In combination with new Skype clients for mobile handsets, the services may make business inroads as a way to save money on calling among workers that travel and work outside the office, says Rebecca Swensen, an analyst with IDC. "This is the next logical step if they want to be aggressive in the business market," she says about Skype for SIP.

Initially Skype business services will be most attractive to small businesses that are driven by possible costs savings, she says, and they may actually turn all their calling over to Skype. But larger corporations that require service-level agreements with guaranteed uptime and concerns about security almost certainly will not.

However, those larger corporations may be willing to turn over some of their calling to Skype as a way to drive down the cost of certain classes of calls and perhaps reduce the size of contracts with their traditional service providers, Swensen says.

If Skype can reduce the cost of mobile calls between, say, the sales force and headquarters by avoiding cellular roaming charges, it may win corporate customers, she says. The best-effort nature of Skype's peer-to-peer networking model may make these same businesses shy away from Skype for handling calls with customers.

"Just because there are no SLAs does not mean Skype won't be attractive to larger enterprises," Swensen says. "It just means they're not going to rely solely on Skype."

Skype for SIP could be used to support click-to-call buttons on corporate Web sites, for example, where visitors to Web sites whose machines have a Skype client could be connected via SIP over the Internet to a corporate PBX. The PBX would then route the call to a contact center where an agent could provide more information.

To enable Skype for SIP, Skype is installing servers in its network that make the translation between proprietary Skype signaling and standards-based SIP. The call setup and the actual media packets that carry the conversation also go through the Skype gear, the company says.

Skype says it is testing its SIP interoperability with IP PBXs from Asterisk, Avaya, Cisco, Nortel and Shoretel, and will develop instructions for customers on how these devices should be configured to support Skype for SIP.

Skype says it is still evaluating how it will charge for its new service.

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