Saving with Skype in the mobile enterprise

* Smartphone apps, SIP service and CPE gateway offer low-cost calling options

Skype, with its initial proprietary protocols and peer-to-peer behavior, has historically not been particularly popular with enterprise IT departments. However, a few recent moves, including some wireless ones, might be starting to change all that.

From the smartphone perspective, Skype softphone clients last week were announced for Research In Motion (RIM) BlackBerry Bold and Curve mobile devices, popular in the enterprise, and for the Apple iPhone 3G and iPod Touch. The iPhone's status as a bona fide enterprise-class device wavers, depending on whom you talk to, primarily because of its current lack of hard drive encryption and remote wipe and kill capabilities.

For now, Skype voice calling works only with the Wi-Fi connection in the iPhone.

Because VoIP over 3G violates sole U.S. iPhone distributor AT&T’s mobile terms and conditions, the application is disabled for working across an AT&T 3G data plan. Presence and chat functions, however, work over the 3G data network.

Meanwhile, Skype itself announced a service, currently in beta, enabling companies to use the low-cost Skype IP telephony service through their existing Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)-based PBX equipment. Called Skype for SIP, it requires that customers already own SIP-based PBXs configured to interoperate with SIP gear in Skype's own network. It is slated for commercial availability later this year.

Note that there’s also a CPE option for leveraging low-cost Skype calling with your PBX. The Skype VoSKY Exchange, made by a subsidiary of ActionTec Electronics, is a PBX-to-Skype gateway that connects to any one of 45 different IP PBXs and has been certified by Skype.

The gateway allows you to make, receive and transfer Skype calls from any phone attached to your PBX. From a mobile phone, users can dial their office number, hopefully using free minutes from their mobile call plan, then speed-dial out on the corporate dial plan or SkypeOut to other Skype users.

According to Adam Smith, solutions specialist at IP communications integrator Xtelesis, the VoSKY gateway extinguishes some of the security concerns enterprises have had about Skype.

“P2P file transfer goes away and is not accessible to the end user,” Smith says. He explains that putting the VoSKY Exchange behind the corporate firewall “locks out the ability for [clients] to be a [P2P] node on the network. The PBX sees [the gateway] as just another trunk to dial out of,” he says, adding that voice is encrypted.

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