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Paula Bernier
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Rosenberg Talks about His Skype High Ambitions

Long-standing UC magazine columnist Jonathan Rosenberg recently left Cisco Systems to work for Skype. We recently caught up with Skype's new chief technology strategist to learn more about his new gig and some of the new and exciting things - like the Verizon Wireless deal - happening at Skype.

You recently left Cisco and joined Skype as chief technology strategist. What are you working on at Skype?
Rosenberg: I'm responsible for Skype's technology strategy and overall architectural direction. I've been focusing on driving innovation in a few key areas for us - video, mobile and the Web. Skype has already been incredibly successful in the area of video. Already, 34 percent of Skype-to-Skype calls include video, and that has peaked at a little more than 40 percent during holidays like Christmas or New Year's Day. That's just huge, and it means that the 'network effect‘ - which has really prevented real-time video from taking off in the past - has been achieved. We have also been very successful in the mobile sector, with deep integration with 3UK, which has now carried over 1 billion Skype-to-Skype minutes over their network, and now Verizon Wireless. Plus, we launched Skype for iPhone, one of the most popular apps ever. My goal is to build on those leads and drive them even further.
As mentioned in your February UC column, you recently published some IETF specs around a new federation technology called ViPR. How will this alter the communications space and in what expected timeframe?
Rosenberg: Federation is finally happening. We're seeing it on several fronts. For example, the rise of SIP trunking between enterprises and traditional service providers, as well as how Skype for SIP connects the Skype community and enterprises through their existing PBX. With ViPR, we get federation between enterprises. Federation helps drive the 'network effect‘ and exponentially increases the value of communications features that go beyond voice, such as video. Large scale federation won't happen overnight, but over several years.
Voice over IP made its name as an arbitrage offer. Has that changed? And, if so, how?
Rosenberg: Cost savings was, and still is, a key part of VoIP, but it's not the only part. For me, VoIP has always been about going beyond today's telecommunications experience and delivering something more - what we refer to as Internet communications. Presence, IM and video are some of the essential capabilities that go beyond basic voice communications as part of the Internet communications value proposition. Skype is a great example of how Internet communications is about more than just cheap voice. People are using Skype not only because it saves them money, but also because video conversations allow people to feel closer with their loved ones. Our video statistics are clear proof of this.
What was the most important communications development in 2009 and why?
Rosenberg: That's a tough one. I believe the arrival of Android is an important communications development in 2009. Though 2008 was when the very first Android phones shipped, 2009 was really the year Android really got off the ground. Mobile phones represent the future of Internet communications. However, mobile phones have largely been closed platforms, especially when it comes to voice and video communications software. With Android, mobile phones become more wide open to third-party applications in the same way the PC is open to them. Android's attractive price point (free!), combined with its multi-device support have quickly made it a player in the mobile OS space, and its role will only continue to grow.
Many of our sources say the rise of the app store was the most important development in communications in 2009. What are your thoughts on that? How, if at all, does Skype fit into the construct of the app store?
Rosenberg: It's definitely one of the big ones, yes. The app store is another step in the direction of transforming the mobile phone into a pocket computing and Internet device. The distribution channels for third-party software that have worked so well on the PC have not worked on mobile phones, and that is where the app store comes in. Now, it's arguably easier for third-party developers to reach users on mobile phones than it is on PCs. This will continue to enrich the ecosystem of applications for these devices and help foster continued openness on them. That's where Skype fits in. Just look at Skype's iPhone application, which was launched in April 2009, and today has had more than 12 million downloads. Through app stores, it becomes easy for users to take their Skype experience with them.
What else is Skype doing on the technology front to allow its services to be more accessible and relevant to mobile users?
Rosenberg: We're making dramatic investments to make sure that the mobile Skype experience is a first-class. We are focused on bringing our mobile experience to customers in three ways: making available direct-to-consumer downloads (i.e., Skype for Symbian and Skype for iPhone); working with device manufacturers to pre-load Skype on devices (i.e., Nokia N900) and partnering with mobile operators to create an integrated Skype experience (i.e., Verizon Wireless and 3UK). We plan to push the envelope further by delivering richer communication experiences. We also plan on making our experiences increasingly more integrated, so that users can use Skype on their mobiles seamlessly, having an ‘always-on' experience so that you can have Skype running in the background and receive IMs or calls even when you are away from the Skype application. The point is, mobile is an important aspect of Skype's future, and Skype plans on delivering the best mobile experience possible.
The relationship we recently announced to bring Skype mobile to Verizon Wireless smartphone users with data plans is a great example of this. It adds great value because it effectively makes it possible for Verizon Wireless customers to make free calls to the millions of Skype users around their globe from their 3G smartphones. This will totally change the way U.S. consumers use their mobile phones, as they can now call their friends and family internationally for free.
What key communications-related developments do you expect to see in the year ahead, and why are they noteworthy?
Rosenberg: We have already seen IP communications moving beyond PCs and into mobiles and embedded consumer electronics such as televisions. The next frontier for voice and video communications is on the Web. Over the years, the Web has become increasingly interactive and multimedia centric. Soon, voice and video communications can and will blend seamlessly into whatever Web application you are using, rather than being something separate. I expect to see IP communications increasingly embedded into Web sites, business applications, social media tools, search and other Web-based services. IP communications will be a service available from the cloud, easily integrated into Web applications in the same way that Twitter and Facebook are integrated. That will really open the door to a flood of new IP communications endpoints, all enabled by the Web.
What's next for Skype? Can you offer any insight on what the company has in the pipeline?
Rosenberg: Skype's future is driven by our users. We will follow them and take Skype to the devices and platforms on which they spend most of their time. In the past, it was the PC. As we announced at CES in January, soon people will be able to make Skype calls on HDTVs from Panasonic and LG. But they are also spending their time on mobile devices and on the Web. That is where Skype's future lies as well. Mobile and Web are the future frontiers of IP communications, and we plan on being the leaders in delivering it.

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