Last week, Gizmo5—provider of one of our favorite Web-based VoIP services—announced the launch of OpenSky, a standardized way for phone users to reach their friends, colleagues, customers, or suppliers who rely on Skype for their phone connectivity.
We caught up with Michael Robertson, founder of Gizmo5, and got some details.
Since the launch, OpenSky—a hosted service that works with any IP device that supports SIP—has had rapid uptake both among business users and consumers, Robertson said.
“On the business side,” he told VoIPplanet.com, “there are tens of millions of IP phones that are deployed in some of the largest corporations in the world. They’re very sophisticated phone systems, but they can’t call any of the 400 million people that are registered with Skype.”
“Increasingly, you’re seeing suppliers, especially in the Middle East, who have Skype identities,” Robertson continued. “And you’re seeing branch offices that use Skype identities. But today you can’t call any of those Skype users if you have a Polycom or a Cisco phone or an Avaya phone.”
“So, there are business applications but there are enormous consumer applications as well,” he said. “We’ve actually had a lot more consumers signing up than business, because many consumers have an ATA, so they can now call the Skype world.”
Basic operation is very simple from any phone system that can dial a SIP URI (the SIP identifier that looks something like an e-mail address). All that’s necessary is to enter the Skype name of the party you want to reach together with the address of the gateway, like this—
[email protected]—and send. You’ll be connected to your Skype party directly.
Of course, many conventional IP phones have only a numeric keypad, and don’t provide any way to “dial” a URI. Gizmo5 has a solution for these situation, too. “If you have a Skype address, I can map that to a number,” Robertson explained.
Here’s how it works: Go to my.gizmo5.com and log in (you need to be a Gizmo5 member—which is free). In the OpenSky section, there is a link to a little application where you can “Add an alias.” You enter the Skype name of the person you want to reach, then enter a 7-digit number. It could be an actual phone number—or not. It doesn’t matter.
To place a call, dial the “area code” 333 plus that 7-digit number, and the call goes through.
Then there’s the PBX world. There are millions of users in small businesses that use the open-source Asterisk PBX, Robertson pointed out, but Asterisk shops can’t call Skype names either. Asterisk could certainly send a URI, but users wouldn’t be able to dial one from the numeric keypad.
The fix for Asterisk is to use the numeric alias methodology described above.
“If they want to make that seamless dialing of numeric aliases work, then there’s 15 lines of code they can add to their configuration file on Asterisk, and make seamless dialing work,” Robertson explained. The necessary code posted on the OpenSky Web page. Once this code is added, to the Asterisk configuration file, Asterisk will use the 333 code to dial Skype-name numeric aliases.
Are mobile phone users out of luck on this one? Not at all. There are several alternative ways to call into the Skype world on a mobile.
One is GizmoCall, a Web page where registered Gizmo5 members can type in a phone number—or, in this case a Skype name preceded by “skype_” (that is “skype_skypename”)—and click to call. OpenSky places both legs of the call and rings your cellphone.
For the times when you’re out and about, Gizmo5 has a special OpenSky number (1-941-421-9832). By sending an SMS to this number, you can either send an SMS or place a call to a Skype identity. The OpenSky Web page explains the details. (Note that this option will cost you Gizmo CallOut minutes—the equivalent of SkypeOut—in addition to the cost of the gateway service.)
Users of Wi-Fi-enabled Nokia phones have it even easier (perhaps because Michael Robertson uses a Nokia E71?). First you’ll have to install the Gizmo software on the Nokia phone (go to http://www.gizmo5.com/nokia to download). With the software installed, you can then enter an “Internet telephone” for any contact. Type in the URI (consisting, again, of the Skype name plus the OpenSky domain—such as [email protected]). Thereafter just select the Internet telephone entry for the desired Skype contact, and click to dial.
For the time being, OpenSky works only for calling into the Skype world, Robertson explained. “But very shortly,” he added, “we’ll roll out the other direction as well, so if you call my Skype account, I could answer it on my Nokia Wi-Fi phone or my IP PBX desktop phone. So that’s coming: The next step will be taking calls from Skype and forwarding, if you will, to any SIP device.”
For calls of less than five minutes duration, OpenSky is free. For calls that exceed that time restriction, there is a flat-rate, per-month pricing scale, based on the number of accounts being billed. It is available on the OpenSky web page.