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May/June 2009 | Volume 1/Number 3
Editor's Note

Skype, Networks and Meta-Networks

By Richard "Zippy" Grigonis

It’s funny how the most interesting thing about eBay also happens to be the one thing they’re trying to unload faster than a hot potato – namely, Skype, the world’s most popular IP communications application/service. To be precise, in 2010 the online auction house plans to spin off Skype in what in years past would have been an Initial Public Offering (IPO) of staggering proportions.

Why eBay acquired Skype in the first place was a bit mystifying – at the time eBay claimed that buyers and sellers in the midst of an online transaction could confer with each other using VoIP. The fact that both buyers and sellers already had conventional telephony services and didn’t tend to speak to each other didn’t seem to affect the decision to acquire Skype. Once acquired, the promised intensive integration never took place.

Getting away from eBay is perhaps the best thing that could possibly happen to Skype which continues to thrive and evolve despite eBay’s bizarre management style. Although long thought of as a consumer phenomenon, in March 2009, Skype launched Skype for SIP, a service targeting business users. (About 35 percent of Skype’s users are business people, interestingly enough.)

Skype, wildly popular as it is, is not a network in itself, but a sort of meta-network, running your voice and video communications from your desk and mobile devices over the Internet. It’s exactly the kind of "non-telco telco" that everybody thought would have completely usurped circuit-switched voice by now. Instead of a traditional telco network that owns and operates all of the communications infrastructure, Skype piggybacks atop other networks (particularly the Internet), which has led to accusations that it’s a parasite on the world’s network operators.

According to TeleGeography, Skype is now not just the world’s largest VoIP provider, it’s the world’s largest international pseudo-telco anyway you look at it: During 2008 it handled 33 billion (or 8 percent) of the world 384 billion cross-border minutes. Other VoIP providers handle a total of 23 percent of international minutes, and the PSTN operators take care of 69 percent, a decrease from the 73 percent of total international minutes they transported in 2007. But not all of Skype’s minutes are free – 8.4 billion crossed over to the traditional circuit-switched PSTN via the Skype-out sub-service, infusing some needed cash into the Skype coffers. Users think it’s just one network.

Indeed, Yours Truly expects that all networks will eventually talk to each other. Just as the Internet is a meta-network or "network of networks" in the hardware sense, so too will be see a pan-communications network in the software/service sense, with the Internet as its ultimate underlying substrate. This reminds me of an amusing tongue-in-cheek post recommending that, "all these social community sites could be merged into one called , say, MyFlickeringFace".

I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody like Google has a grand plan for a global (or even cosmic) meta-network wherein any device can tap into the web in any you like using any kind of provider running any network (wireline, mobile, WiFi hotspots, satellite, etc.), and yet all identification, authentication and interoperability details are taken care of as a background process. Such pan-communications architecture, a sort of super IMS, would enable anyone to develop any type of app for a world market.

Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC’s IP Communications Group.

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