In the briefing room: Skype Connect

In early 2009, Skype launched the beta of Skype for SIP, its enterprise-focused offering that connects Skype to IP-PBX or Unified Communications (UC) systems.

Is this the party to whom I am speaking?

18 months later, Skype Connect (née Skype for SIP) moved out of beta after a long gestation period, and we sat down with David Gurlé, general manager and vice president of the Skype for Business unit, to find out what had changed and what the company learnt during the beta period.

Since this is Skype’s foray into enterprise sales, we weren’t surprised that this has been a learning experience.  Compared to 18 months ago, the company now has a better understanding of the expectations that customers have for support, call quality, ease of setup, and features.  For the final release, Skype added 24×7 support, a configuration wizard, and features such as conference calling.

As a result, setting up Skype Connect is now quite easy.  Using Skype Manager, users select the number of lines they need, and purchase and configure Skype Connect.  Features include outbound calling to landlines and mobile phones at standard Skype per-minute rates, inbound call reception from lines in a corporate PBX via online Skype numbers, and inbound call reception from Skype Click and Call buttons placed on Web sites.  Additionally, Skype Connect includes the ability to use call and management features from existing PBX and UC systems such as logging, call recording, auto-attendant, voicemail, conferencing, automatic call distribution, and call routing.

Gurlé noted that one of the most encouraging outcomes of the beta program was that many users (there are 2400 distinct customers, but actual user numbers are not available) began with Skye Connect as a secondary network option, but then adopted the service as their primary option.

Gurlé also stated that the option of using embeddable click-to-call buttons on Web sites had led to adoption in call center scenarios.  Also, based on user data, the number of outgoing calls and inbound calls on the service were roughly equal.

Customers who participated in the beta program included companies in finance, healthcare, travel, high tech, and hospitality, and were generally organizations with over 50 people.  A common theme that linked the beta testers was that they were organizations operating across multiple sites.

For Gurlé, the next step for Skype Connect is to establish itself in the market and demonstrate to customers that they can rely on the company for enterprise-level service.  Future enhancements that are being mulled over include video support as well as the ability to place IP to IP calls, bypassing the PSTN network.

In order to gain significant traction in the market, however, Skype will need to form partnerships with telecommunications and network providers as well as the many systems integrators that now serve the SMB market.  Gurlé says that Skype will be announcing some channel partners in the not-too-distant future.  In the meantime Skype has certified Skype Connect for PBX and UC offerings from Avaya, Cisco, Siemens, SIPfoundry, and ShoreTel.  It can also work with TDM PBXs and Key Systems via third-party IP gateways from AudioCodes, Grandstream, and VoSKY.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

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