Skype for Business: Toy or Tool?

After traditional phone service, such as land lines and mobile phones, Skype is the defacto choice for voice calls for those who want to save money, especially calling international.
Since its inception, Skype has been most known to the consumer market as a way to make free phone calls. It’s evolved its service to include video, chat, and fee based service for calls to non-Skype users on land lines and mobile phones.
On the other hand, many of Skype’s users, including myself, use Skype for business. This could be a one person retail stores in Austin, to a consortium of 10 lawyers in Denver and beyond.
Skype is evolving to be more than a cheap way to make telephone calls, but it’s positioning itself to also transform HOW businesses communicate internally and externally.

What Does Skype Mean For Your Business
Skype is clearly a way to save money on telephone calls, whether you have a one person office or a 50 person PBX. For those without their own phone systems Skype operates quite well on a computer. For those with traditional PBX phone systems, you can save money and connect to Skyp through SIP (read below for more information on SIP).
If you travel, call your office through Skype and save money. If you’re at a client meeting, and need the support of your team back at the office, “bring them to the meeting” through Skype.
Having Skype in your business and using it as the foundation for your communication also enables you to have the immediate benefit of “presence” to see who is online and if they are online to communicate with them through video or chat.
As companies seek ways to move beyond traditional communication and operate faster and smarter, tools such as Skype are going to be increasingly important.
Skype is definitely NOT a Toy. However, to get the most out of Skype ensure you have a quality and high speed Internet service and the right accessories (such as a good web cam and head phones) to make your calling experience as rich and successful as possible.
Several of you weighed in via Twitter and said that while Skype is useful, there are challenges with the quality of calls. I agree. However, as Matthew Jordan, enterprise business development manager for Skype told me there are many variables that must be considered when it comes to working with Skype.
Two challenges are: the Internet connectivity from the business to the Internet and all the various connections in between is out of Skype’s control. If these connections are not good quality, your Skype phone call won’t be so good. There’s also processing power of the computer that the end users are using. If the computer’s are not powerful enough to process the call, then the voice quality will also not be so good.
Skype is not alone. Google Voice, ooVoo, and Callserve are three competitors. Their offerings are a bit different than Skype, but worth looking at, especially for very small businesses.
One of the advantages of a service like M5 Networks, Cbeyond, Broadview Networks and XO Communications , is that in addition to the online services (such as presence, chat, etc), you receive a dedicated Internet connection so that your quality of service is as high as possible.
Sanjeev Aggarwal of SMB Group Tweeted me that Skype cannot control QOS as the calls go through public lines vs. private, better alternative for business is 8X8.
Skype Business History
Skype was launched in 2003 and 2 years later in 2005, enabled business users to more easily use Skype by having one person setup and manage other Skype accounts, which was the first iteration of Skype for Business.
In 2006, Skype continued to expand further by launching Skype for Business which according to Beta News offered a dedicated Web site to manage communications for up to ten employees; the introduction of new Skype hardware from partner Plantronics and others; and new features in Skype Groups to simplify management and prepaid services, now called the Skype for Business Control Panel.
In March 2009 Skype enabled businesses with PBX phones systems to connect their phones systems to Skype through SIP, this was a beta program.
According to the SIP Center, the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is a signalling protocol used for establishing sessions in an IP network. A session could be a simple two-way telephone call or it could be a collaborative multi-media conference session. The ability to establish these sessions means that a host of innovative services become possible, such as voice-enriched e-commerce, web page click-to-dial, Instant Messaging with buddy lists, and IP Centrex services.
In December 2009 Skype expanded its SIP program to all (out from beta) businesses.