Just reviewed a recent presentation by Skype GM Jonathan Christensen at Ecomm2008 entitled "A Brief History of VoIP." The full presentation can be viewed here or below. Besides a nice ego boost, in that Jonathan cites Delta Three, which I co-founded and helped lead, as a "pioneer," I came away with a few highlights, and questions.
Number one highlight, is that Skype (and others) went from talking in 2003 about downloads (500K in 2003) to "users." Jonathan says that today there are 276 million users of Skype. Believable? I think not, but depends on how expansive your definition of user is...When I tried to use Skype tonight (more on that below) there were 12.4 million "on-line." Not using, obviously, just running Skype in the background. No usage statistics are ever given....would be fascinating to hear what those 276 million actually are doing.
Number two, is that Jonathan does not relate to quality issues, which in my mind are still A BIG DEAL. VoIP has had a bad reputation since the beginning as a low quality phone quality, when in reality we geeks know that true VoIP should be better quality than the PSTN. Why is it [still] not? Because unless you control the network[s] you run on, you have no quality of service. Tried to talk to one of our CEOs tonight on Skype (he in hotel room in LA, me in my house in Jerusalem where I have 5 MB line), and after few minutes of CB radio like static has to IM him asking for hotel room number, and I called him using my POTS phone.
Number Three, while Jonathan claims profitability for Skype, as far as I know the only revenue they have is from Skype Out, which is nothing more than a cheap calling card for the PSTN -- in other words, they generate no revenue from actual pure IP communications. Could they at least put ads on the Skype app? Sure. But I guess being part of Ebay, there is no rush to bring in new revenue channels...
Finally, Jonathan talks about "mash ups of web based communications," but as far as I know, Skype "users" are restricted to calling, on net, other Skype "users." Not much of a mash up there. In fact, sounds very much like a closed garden, even worse than regular phone network. Where are the inter-op agreements for Skype users to talk to MSN/ICQ/AIM/GoogleTalk users?
I have a lot of respect for Skype team past and present, but think VoIP community is still taking baby steps from the "pioneering" days of Delta Three, ITXC, VocalTec, and others. It is time for new pioneers to really move us forward in leveraging the power of IP communications.