It seems lately, at least when you read about VoIP in the mainstream press, its all Skype, Skype, and more Skype. And no wonder: The outsize value of the eBay/Skype deal is certainly breathtaking, and its exciting to see some froth in the market again (although with all the hullabaloo, Ive seen scant discussion about how the two companies will go about integrating the Skype service with the eBay user community).
Of course, peer-to-peer (PC-to-PC) VoIP communications is hardly a new phenomenon. After all, the first iteration of VoIP in the marketplace 10+ years ago was PC-to-PC software applications like Internet Phone. Yes, problems abounded which seriously hampered widespread adoption and included pokey dial-up connections, clunky software, and underpowered PCs, and a multitude of Internet QoS impairments that resulted in very poor call and voice quality. And voice chat has been an option inside most instant-messenger applications for some time, but again, poor voice quality made it difficult to use.
The early technology, however, was truly pioneering and very much set the stage for where we are today. With todays widespread broadband connections; improved standards and protocols; robust softswitches and Web infrastructures; rapid growth of e-commerce and Web-based user communities; and PC hardware, operating systems and software light-years ahead of their predecessors, all the ingredients are in place, I believe, to bring on a golden age of Web telephony.
With the eBay/Skype combination, its a natch that all eBay buyers and sellers will be provided with a free Skype account, tied-in with their existing user names. The eBay community will be able to conduct voice communications with each other at no charge, and eBay will have the means to offer (and sell) more value- added communications services to its members, such as the Skype-Out offering. eBay will also bring PayPal into the mix, and allow Skype users to use their PayPal wallet to pay for call services. In fact, when eBay talks about the purchase, they talk about the Power of Three and the inherent synergies between eBay, Skype, and PayPal. Its a powerful and quite compelling rationale.
According to eBay, the acquisition will expand eBays share of e-commerce, accelerate commerce on eBay, open up new lines of business, new monetization models and new geographies, and serve as a great standalone communications business. The central notion here is that communication is essential for e-commerce to work, and that the online transaction process between buyers and sellers requires various communications points along the way, including Q&A, and transaction and order-related communications. Apparently, more than five million e-mail messages are initiated each day between buyers and sellers, and with Skype, eBay hopes to remove a key source of friction between buyers and sellers, creating an environment even more conducive to e-commerce and higher-value, more complex types of transactions.
So what lies beyond the obvious? Word has it that eBay/Skype will soon release an Internet Explorer toolbar that will let you effortlessly dial numbers that appear on search results or Web pages, and provide integration with Microsoft Outlook that will allow you to initiate Web calls to your Outlook contacts. Other applications apparently in development include Web presence integration, which creates click-to-call Skype-Me links in member profile areas of social networking Web sites, and Voice Marketplace applications that power innovative voice service such as language learning tools, homework tutoring, and interactive voice response services such as traffic reports and the like.
Another deal that got widely picked up, but then got lost quickly in the shuffle, was the acquisition of Teleo by Microsoft this past August. Teleo has many of the peer-to-peer features of Skype, but is more focused on allowing users to use their PC to make VoIP calls to cell phones and regular phones. It is also ahead of Skype in coming up with a very slick integration with Microsoft Outlook and Internet Explorer that enables click to call dialing of any telephone number that appears on screen such as within a Web site, search results page or e-mail message. The acquisition also underlines the growing importance of voice services to the instant-message platforms in use, such as MSN Messenger, as it will allow Microsoft to build click-to-call links into the MSN service so that local search results for a pizza parlor or flower shop, for example can include a link to let a Web surfers PC call directly to the business
Of the two deals, it seems to me, the Microsoft /Teleo one is actually far more interesting in terms of the implications for the marketplace for Web telephony. Microsoft has indicated that the the Teleo technology would be used primarily within MSN applications, rather than being integrated into the Windows operating system. This remains to be seen. But just imagine the implications for the market if Microsoft decides to bundle Teleos itty-bitty click-to-call app into Internet Explorer. IT
Marc Robins is Chief Evangelism Officer of Robins Consulting Group, which offers an array of services to the IP telephony industry. He has been involved in the telecommunications industry as a reporter and analyst, trade show producer and publisher, and marketing executive and consultant for more than 24 years. For more information, call RCG at 718-548-7245 or e-mail [email protected].