PBX Vendors Validate Skype for SIP

In March of this year, Web-based VoIP service provider Skype announced the beta introduction of Skype for SIP, an initiative to forge connections between its global phone network and businesses with IP PBX systems.

The new connectivity would allow businesses to place and receive domestic and international calls at Skype’s low calling rates.

Now the first two IP PBX players have thrown their hats into the ring. ShoreTel and SIPFoundry have signed onto the program, announcing that their systems will interconnect successfully with Skype for SIP.

Skype is touting these advances in the program as a boon not just for its own efforts to woo the business community, but also for businesses themselves, who will be able to more easily access what Skype sees as the advantages of its offerings.

“It’s very difficult to find an organization that wouldn’t benefit from it,” said Ian Robin, head of commercial development for the business team at Skype. Once plugged in, some 480 million Skype users will be able to call into any Skype for SIP enabled IP PBX for free. Outbound calls, especially international calls, would represent a significant potential cost savings, which could be a gain for large enterprise users conducting overseas business.

In its effort to draw business users, Skype sweetens the pot with features that go beyond price. Robin cited free desktop video, voice to text and group chat functions. “The reason we have been successful so far is more than just saving money,” he said. “In these times, with what is happening in the global economy, people are more receptive to not just saving money but also to new ways of working.”

For users of ShoreTel and SIPFoundry IP PBXs, incorporation of Skype for SIP promises to be a relatively simple matter. “You’ll set up a business control panel with Skype, a web-based tool for managing multiple Skype accounts. Within that is the Skype for SIP process, where you will define the Skype for SIP account, you’ll embed that information into the calling section of your IP PBX like you would with any other service, and off you go,” Robin said.

Money, features, simplicity: If it seems as if Skype has labored to put together a very complete package, it may have had a good reason for doing so. Convincing business IT managers to try Skype has proven a challenge thus far, and Skype executives are eager to get their foot in that door.

IT managers have frowned at Skype as being primarily a consumer-centric offering, despite the widespread adoption of Skype among individual users within businesses. Skype for SIP might be a way over that wall.

Without a robust interface, “enterprise IT managers may have been reluctant to deploy Skype strategically within the business, even though they in fact have had a lot of users who have been using Skype anyway,” Robin said. By giving Skype official entrée into the phone system, “it allows you to bring in Skype in a more formal, more systematic way.”

While Skype already has some presence within businesses of varies sizes, that user base has grown virally. Skype is betting IT managers are eager to tap that energy by introducing they service more formally. They hope managers will be wooed in part by the notion of Skype as a service that already aligns nicely with their existing telecom scenarios.

“You can’t get away from the fact that most business users still have a phone on their desk and will for several years to come, so getting into the phone system is a major part of our strategy,” Robin said.

“I want IT managers to be thinking about Skype as they are setting up their phone systems. ‘I have a CEO who works from home all the time. How is he going to interface with our marketing department in another country?’ That’s where Skype sits.”

The ability to link to an IP PBX could potentially represent a major market for Skype. IDC for example has estimated some 438,000 IP PBXs were shipped worldwide in 2008. That suggests a lot of potential entry points into businesses of varying sizes.

As it pushes forward to capture that market, Skype is touting an aggressive timeline. The company says it anticipates seeing all major IP PBX makers being Skype for SIP compatible within the next few months.

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