There has been a lot of hype around Skype over the last year but is it any good for business purposes?
Skype is an internet telephony service that works using your computer and a high speed internet connection. It uses voice-over-IP technology in a similar way to Vonage or other providers. The difference is that with Skype you have to have your computer turned on in order to receive calls. Voice-mail works even with the computer off.
Inexpensive Local Phone Numbers!
Skype is incredibly inexpensive and fairly flexible. For example, you can buy a “Skype-in” phone number for just under $40 a YEAR. This enables people without Skype to call you using a regular phone. Furthermore the number you pick can have an area code of anywhere in the US and even be local to certain countries.
That means if you have business in the UK, you could buy a Skype-in number in the UK so that a person could call a local UK number which would then ring on your computer in the US! Pretty cool.
The Skype-in number also comes with voice-mail so that if you computer is turned off or you are already on the phone, it will go to voice mail. You can also forward incoming calls to another number.
Out-going calls are cheap too
To make calls out you buy “Skype-out” credits. You buy them in $10 or $25 increments and you see a counter that shows how much you have used. The credits expire after 180 days and then you lose them. Calls cost around 2 cents a minute to pretty much anywhere in the developed world. Some countries cost more but at least the US and Western Europe are 2 cents. Calls to cell phones overseas also cost more but not, oddly enough, to cell phones in the US.
Last year, Skype made available unlimited calling for US subscribers within the US for free which was excellent. We knew that couldn’t last if they were to stay in business and so this year you have to buy the unlimited service for $29.95 a YEAR! That is not as good as free but is is excellent value anyway!
By the way, calls to other Skype users are always free no mater where they are located in the world. You can also use video but like other instant messaging services the quality is a bit rough.
You need a headset or a “Skype Phone”
The other thing you need to really do Skype justice is either a headset or preferably a Skype phone. I have a Linksys CT-200 which I like (I’ll post a review as a separate post). Some people I know have tried using the mic built-in to the computer and loudspeakers but this does not work well in my opinion. Using a broadband wireless connection does not work well either. At least it didn’t work for me but with a cable connection it worked pretty good.
You can also do conference calling with up to three people which can be handy.
The Bottom Line for Business Use
Ok, so what is the bottom-line for business use?
Well the idea is certainly a good one and it works pretty well about 80% of the time. Its the other 20% that bites you in the rear. I gave Skype a try for 6 months so I came to know it quite well and in my opinion it is not quite there for full business use. I ended up getting a Comcast VOIP service which has worked very well for me. Of course it is also more expensive. Quite a bit more expensive but still less than a regular phone line!
The biggest issue with Skype is call quality. In 20% of the time I had dropped calls and poor sound quality. For a business call that is just unacceptable as you do not present a professional image. You need to be able to rely 100% on your phone.
Another gotcha with Skype is that the Skype-in number that I bought turns out to be not transferable. I got a killer number 360-450-5555 but when I opened my Comcast account, they could not transfer over the number.
Ok, not a problem thought I. I’ll simply forward the Skype number to my new number. Unfortunately the forwarded call quality is consistently bad so that doesn’t work. Now I just let the Skype calls go to voice-mail and I call the person back.
I do still use Skype for international calls. For business I make them rarely enough that the 80% hit rate is ok. Just the other day I was using it to Australia and it worked fine. The person on the other end has Skype too so the call didn’t cost a penny!
For personal use I use Skype all the time. My folks still live in the UK so we talk once a week or so. Its so cheap that I have no hesitation to call them at the drop of a hat (taking into account the time zone of course!). And if the call gets dropped I just start it up again and it is no big deal.
If Skype can improve the reliability of their service I may use it more in future but for now, I’ll stick with Comcast for all my business calls here in the US.