skype_logoA while back I discovered the delights of free VOIP calls and instant messaging courtesy of the revolutionary Skype.  I bought me a nice Skype phone for my Mac, installed the Skype program, and purchased some credit so I could call landline numbers from my computer.  It was fantastic.  Until I got frustrated at the poor quality I was getting when connecting to conventional telephone numbers.  I would call clients on business and the call would fall apart and I would have to call them back on my mobile and apologise profusely for the dodgy phone connection.  Not very professional.  And as such I stopped using Skype altogether and let my credit expire.

So why am I now considering it again?  Is it just the Christmas merriment making me more receptive to trying something in the hope it’ll be better this time round?  Or have I left things long enough to allow for technology to catch up, enabling me to take full advantage of the services on offer to transform the way I do business?

If you were expecting an answer to any of those questions, I’m afraid I can’t give you any.  At the moment it’s just an idea, the merest germ of an idea at that.  I do still have my Skype phone, and very nice it is too, but I don’t have any Skype credit any more so I can’t test the connection quality to see if things have improved.  That said, I did have a partial video conference with my Dad a while back (with video streaming from his end but not from mine, as I don’t have a webcam), and that seemed to be ok, though with a little delay in the sound.

It’s a very tempting idea, using my internet connection as a phone, but there are a number of factors to consider.  For a start, all my clients know my existing business mobile number, so I would have to keep that anyway.  Calls on Skype would certainly be a lot cheaper than calling from my mobile all the time.  That said, I hardly use my business mobile for making calls, but perhaps that’s because it costs me lots… maybe if calls cost me less I would spend more time on the phone.  But I do need to be sure that the quality of the call is good enough to present a decent professional service to people when they call (or when I call them).  My current internet connection is pretty basic if I’m honest; a broadband speed test I did today showed that my download speed is just over 1Mbps, and upload speed is around 340Mbps.  So not great by modern standards.  It ought to be enough for Skype, as long as I’m not trying to do anything else at the same time.  What happens if I’m uploading a big file via FTP and someone phones me?

So, although Skype is cheap, there is still an overhead involved.  I would need to buy credit, or go onto one of their monthly plans, which costs money.  I would need an incoming Skype telephone number so that traditional phones can still reach me (I’d get one included with a monthly plan, but I’d have to pay for it separately otherwise), which costs money.  And I’d probably have to consider upgrading my internet connection so that it could cope with the increased traffic, which costs money.  So although in the long run I might end up saving money, I would need to invest in it first to see any sort of effective return.  Swings and roundabouts.  And the occasional climbing frame.

Has anyone else had experience of using Skype recently?  Has the revolution taken hold yet, or are there still too many problems?


Steve · 23 December 2008 at 6:37 pm

If you are going to run a business on VoIP, there is one thing that is absolutely essential, and that is Quality of Service, or QoS. If you don’t have that then even loading a webpage while you are on the phone can break up the conversation. There are a few routers around with QoS build in and many VoIP providers sell them already configured for their service.
I can highly recommend as a business VoIP service. (Other good ones include Gradwell and Sipgate) Voipfone offer high reliability, pre-configured routers and phones, and you can transfer your number to them. I also have them divert my VoIP number to my mobile if anything goes wrong.

Simon · 24 December 2008 at 12:43 am

Hi Matthew!

I used Vonage for three years when I lived in Colchester, and thought the service was brilliant. On the surface they’re more expensive than Skype, but when you factor in all the extras you need to pay for with Skype, there’s probably not much in it. My experience was that call quality was much better than Skype’s, and it’s more flexible-you don’t have to rely on your computer being on. If it wasn’t for the fact that I have to use mobile broadband because of where I now live I’d still use Vonage!

Matthew · 27 December 2008 at 10:55 am

Steve, thanks for that. I didn’t know about QoS before, but having done some research it does appear to be exactly what I need to ensure a good service. Unfortunately my broadband modem doesn’t support QoS, so I shall have to look around for a replacement at some point. Anyone got an old (but not too old) broadband router spare?

Andy C · 15 January 2009 at 2:09 pm

I use skype quite a lot with work Matthew, and even include my Skype ID in my work email signature.
When i use skype through the computer it seems to be in general pretty good unless the hamsters are running hard. I then bought a SMC skype WiFi mobile – connects directly to a wireless network without the need for a PC which is great, although the performance isnt so good and I had to update the firmware myself to get it to connect for the 1st time. You can also configure skype to display your mobile number when you call people so they think you’re using your mobile. I see more and more people using skype for their work though, and quality is slowly getting better in general.

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