If not, you soon will, says Jim Dougherty

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, I bring good news: Skype. A global internet telephony service that allows users to make free voice calls to other Skype users by way of the internet — or, to landlines and mobile systems worldwide, at local rates. Available in 20 languages, Skype’s peer-to-peer technology enables users to participate in and create a global telephony network. Currently there are more than 13 million subscribers.

Skype’s free software features include conference calling, which enables simultaneous voice communication between groups of up to five. It also offers a global directory and remarkably user-friendly management tools. Not only that, Skype tracks calls and mes­sages while customizing images, ring tones, and call alert options as well as sending and receiving files with virus protection for attachments. And you can login into your Skype account on more than one PC anywhere in the world.

Skype’s software is quick
and easy to use. just download, register,
install, plug in your headset,
speakers or USB phone

Sounds too good to be true? Well, there are “nay-sayers” who claim that Skype is mostly — yes, you’ve guessed it — hype. Some users complain of the qual­ity of service to certain regions of the world, such as the Middle East. Others are unhappy with inflated billings or connection quality to landlines and cell phones. Skype promises to be the internet telephony equivalent of Microsoft — you’re either going to love it, or hate it.

Skype was created by Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, who founded KaZaA, considered by many to be the world’s most popular internet software. It’s scope may be international, but the Skype Group is very much a European organization — Zennstrom is Swedish and Friis is Danish; the company HQ is in Luxembourg.

Both men have an excellent internet pedigree: 38-year-old Zennstrom helped develop the European Internet Service Provider business get2net and was CEO of everyday.com portal. Later he co-founded and served as CEO of KaZaA, a company which has notched up more than 370 million downloads. Equally, Janus Friis, at the tender age of 28, can already lay claim to co-founding Altnet, the world’s first secure p2p wholesale network.

Having tested it before writing this article, I must admit that Skype’s software is quick and easy to use. Just download, register, install, plug in your head­set, speakers or USB phone — and start calling your friends. The sound quality is usually good, and end-to-end encryption ensures your business transactions (or sweet nothings) remain pri­vate. You don’t even need to configure your firewall, router, or any other networking gear.

Skype works as well on Mac OS X, Linux and PDAs using Pocket PC as it does on Windows. In fact, you can talk, send instant messages or even transfer files between different platforms.

Here in Japan, Livedoor has agreed to a partnership agree­ment to deliver co-branded Livedoor-Skype software, providing free internet telephony solely through Livedoor’s portal. You may have heard of Livedoor last year when they competed against Rakuten dur­ing Japan’s Professional Baseball bid to expand the Pacific League by one team. Although Rakuten ended up with the baseball team, Livedoor secured billions of yen in free promotion during the process — and its contract with Skype was nothing less than major league championship negotiation.

There has been more negotiation afoot at Buffalo Inc., who, in agreement with Skype Technologies, recently announced a new move to co-brand Skype’s internet telephony software in Japanese as Buffalo-Skype, and to market a series of headsets and micro­phone products.

I am sure, as time goes by and more competition enters the market, Skype’s luster will begin to dim. However, for cyber rangers looking for a low cost way to call home or anywhere else in the world, Skype is a currently one of the brightest stars in the internet galaxy.