Skype not suitable for businesses in Asia

Net telephony offerings, such as Skype, may be popular among consumers but they're still not appropriate for work due to quality issues, warns 3Com.

Internet telephony products such as those offered by Skype, MSN and Yahoo, may have gained steady ground in the consumer space, but they are still not ready for enterprise adoption in Asia-Pacific, according to networking vendor 3Com.

In an e-mail interview, Matthew Walmsley, product marketing director at 3Com Asia-Pacific, said the company has not seen any example of enterprises using free Internet telephony services or voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) as their primary business telephone infrastructure in the region.

"Whilst Internet telephony is a well-known consumer phenomenon it is not a suitable voice solution for enterprises," Walmsley added.

He explained that to ensure good-quality voice calls, there must be stable bandwidth, low transmission latency--of less than 150ms (millisecond)--and predictable 'jitter variance', which refers to the dynamic change in latency.

Because the Internet is a shared public network without any performance or predictability controls, users have no control over the performance of the Internet, Walmsley explained.

"The 'best effort' method of servicing requests doesn't allow the Internet to differentiate between different users and applications, and this can lead to poor and unpredictable voice quality when using Internet-based telephony," he said.

He noted that while consumers are prepared to sacrifice quality in exchange for low or free call charges, businesses are not as ready to do so.

He said the lure of free phone calls may initially look attractive, but businesses still need to consider the following issues:

  • Call quality or performance guarantee;
  • Availability of telephony services 24 hours by 7 days;
  • Security measures guarding the transmission of the company's voice traffic over a public shared connection, such as the Internet;
  • Ability to integrate the company's enterprise applications with the Internet telephony service.

Walmsley noted that telecommunications is a "critical utility", and businesses still look for high levels of "resiliency and quality". "Introducing raw, uncontrolled Internet connections and even hosting and controlling the call via the Internet, can mean giving up too much control," he said.

That said, the 3Com executive was also quick to point out that VoIP is still applicable to meet certain market demands.

"Internet telephony is good. Business IP telephony is [also] good. They're just two different applications of VoIP that address differing markets and needs," said Walmsley.

He added that there are other applications of VoIP technology that do not rely on the public Internet and are more applicable to businesses, offering cost savings, improved efficiency and productivity and better customer services.

"The prevailing method of deploying IP-based telephony in enterprises is to have a locally hosted system running across your private network, [and] this has numerous advantages over Internet-based telephony," Walmsley said. Other benefits include better control over call quality and connection, and integration--via open standards such as Session Initiation Protocol--with enterprise applications including e-mail and voice mail.

Skype eyes enterprise customers
Meanwhile, Skype has been aggressive in its bid to penetrate deeper into the workplace and has partnered security vendors to ensure its Net telephony tool is suitable for businesses.

Last month, the company teamed up with U.S.-based security company FaceTime Communications, to enable companies to gain control over usage of VoIP tool at work. FaceTime develops software and appliances that allow businesses to monitor and secure the use of instant messaging (IM) tools on their networks.

Skype also offers an enterprise version of its latest Internet telephony application on the Windows operating system. Dubbed Skype 3.0 for Business, the application offers the same features as the standard Skype 3.0 that consumers use but also includes Windows Installer, according to its Web site. The Windows component facilitates the installation and removal of applications via centrally defined policies and rules.

Skype 3.0 for Business also includes "business-friendly features" such as increased security for business users, easy deployment to multiple machines in the company and more control for IT administrators.

Acquired by eBay in May 2005, Skype counts over 30 percent of its 171 million users as business users.

At press time, Skype did not respond to media queries.