Skype has emerged as one of the most popular communication services worldwide. It uses Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology which basically converts voice signals into digital data that is transmitted over the internet before it is converted back to audio signals at the recipient’s computer or Smartphone.
Skype allows you to make telephone calls from your computer or mobile phone to another user using a packet-switched network or a high-speed internet connection. With over 350 million subscribers worldwide, Skype is undoubtedly one of the most popular communication services in the market today. The service comes with its own application software which allows users to make unlimited free PC to PC calls from anywhere in the world or international landline and mobile calls at comparatively cheap rates.
Skype is used all over the world for several purposes including long-distance communication with family and friends, conferences with colleagues or business partners, for socializing through Skype chat, and for making affordably cheap international calls while travelling. The service is available in almost all countries in the world. There are numerous Skype user groups worldwide with the largest groups concentrated in Europe, South East Asia, and of course North America.
Skype is more popular with consumers because it works on a P2P model instead of a centralized application as many of the other VoIP services do. In a P2P model, the user simply downloads a piece of software which allows his or her computer to communicate directly with another user without being routed through a centralized location. This form of decentralization makes Skype a more robust medium of communication than centralized VoIP services.
The service simply requires the user to download a free application which allows free processing and distribution of data in the Skype platform. The application can even be run from a USB flash drive plugged to a computer. Users can also tap into the service using Wi-Fi equipped phones from any place with Wi-Fi access. Communication between Skype-equipped devices is free and at a relatively modest charge between a Skype device and a traditional landline or mobile telephone.
The service provides additional features such as call forwarding, voice-mail, file transfer, alerts, chat, and video communication. The Skype software supports conference calls of up to a maximum of 25 participants at one time. The free version allows free video chat between two people. There is the premium version which gives subscribers an advanced option of group video calling and screen sharing for up to a maximum of ten users. Premium subscription includes options such as the SkypeOut and SkypeIn services. With the SkypeOut option, the user can call any conventional phone directly from a Skype-equipped device or computer for a relatively cheaper cost than most phone carriers charge. SkypeIn allows the user to pay for a telephone number that can be accessed by anyone with a regular telephone number or connection. However, Skype does not support the ability to call emergency numbers such as 911 in the USA or 112 in Europe.
There are several VoIP options besides Skype in the market today. However, most of them fall short of Skype in terms of features, service plans, and ease of set up. Here are a few examples of software applications similar to Skype. The one that comes close is probably Gizmo which is owned by SIPPhone.com. There is also VoIPStunt which offers free or cheap rate calls to mobile and landline phones. Its services are similar to Skype’s but VoIPStunt is only available in a limited number of countries. Other major competitors include PeerMe, which provides better multi-party video conferencing facilities than Skype, and Fring which is also completely free on mobile and PC platforms.
Currently, Skype is facing stiff competition from new entrants in the VoIP market such as the Bria Multimedia Communicator, Talkster, and Nimbuzz. Bria, which was recently launched by Counterpath Solutions, supports both audio and video communication with numerous and more advanced features than Skype. However, unlike Skype, Bria does not come with a free version. Talkster and Nimbuzz come with more interesting interfaces especially for mobile phones and other java-enabled devices. Like Skype, Nimbuzz has free chat and SMS as well as relatively cheap calls.
In comparison with other VoIP services, Skype still tops the list in terms of service plans, key features, and how the service is tailored to meet the user’s communication needs. For example, Skype has a more comprehensive and flexible service plan than other VoIP companies.
These are plans tailored for different consumer budgets such as free SkypeOut calls, unlimited minutes plans, and SkypeIn plans which allow you to maintain your existing phone number after you sign up with the service. The service provides both basic and advanced calling features such as caller ID, voicemail, and enhanced conference calling facilities.
The software is quite user friendly. It is easy to download, install and set up using its easy-to-understand set up instructions. Its ease of set up and live customer help and support through telephone and email, makes it one of the top VoIP choices worldwide.
About Skype Technologies S.A.
Skype is currently owned by Microsoft Corporation. Its history can be traced back to the year 2003 when it was developed by Niklas Zennstrom from Sweden and Janus Friis from Denmark together with Ahti Heinla and Jaan Tallinn from Estonia. The beta version of the software was first released to the public in August 2003. Skype technologies SA was initially based in Luxembourg before it was acquired by eBay Inc. on 12 September 2005 for close to US $2.5 billion. In 2009 eBay Inc. announced the sale of 65% of Skype to Silver Lake, The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Andreessen Horowitz for US $ 1.9 billion. At this time, the company’s value stood at US $ 2.75 billion. Skype Communication was eventually acquired by Microsoft Corporation on 10th May 2011 at a cost of US $8.5 billion. Skype Communications was incorporated as one of Microsoft’s major divisions replacing Microsoft’s Windows Live Messenger as the company’s key instant messaging service. However, Windows Messenger can still be found in places like mainland China.
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