Skype: The situation now, and the road ahead

Over recent weeks, the number of doomsday posts in response to the possible shutdown of the Skype service has swamped the web. But what is the problem, what could happen and how can it be fixed?

Over recent weeks, the number of doomsday posts in response to the possible shutdown of the Skype service has swamped the web. But what is the problem, what could happen and how can it be fixed?

Joltid, the team behind Kazaa, sold Skype in 2005 to eBay for $2.6bn. However the massive cost of this purchase and investment didn't include the underlying peer-to-peer technologies which Skype fundamentally relies on. Earlier on this year, Joltid and Skype's owners, eBay, entered into legal fisticuffs where they sued each other over the arrangements of the licence.

Skype has roughly 480 million users worldwide, almost double that of Facebook's entire user base. The application isn't just a VoIP calling facility but also hosts an instant messenger and video calling features, which have become increasingly popular over the last few years. Even though it is understood that the instant messaging capabilities will not be affected by the licence (dis)agreement, the infrastructure behind the calls would be crippled if Skype were to lose in court.

VoIP technology splits off packets of data and spreads them over the web, only to be combined at the end as sound. The peer-to-peer technology spreads these packets over other Skype users as sending them through a central server would be simply too demanding.

I asked Brian O'Shaughnessy, head of global communications at Skype, whether the client application was affected, but the company have decided not to comment beyond this current stage in the litigation. However, it is my belief that the peer-to-peer technology will exist in some form within the client application to distribute VoIP packets over the Internet.

If this is in fact the case, not only will they need to update their back-end infrastructure but also the Skype client itself.

Skype is a massively important tool within education, and the loss of Skype would be catastrophic for higher education. The most important example is that It allows students to keep in touch with their families from across the globe for free.

The length and breadth of Skype is phenomenal. Even if they manage to recode their infrastructure, there is no guarantee that there will be no loss of features. Though Facebook may seem like the logical choice to get in touch with friends and families for free, the user base figures show how we truly value Skype as gateways to our personal contacts.

The case will reach court again in June 2010. Until then, all we can hope is that either Skype wins or they complete coding an open SIP infrastructure in time to keep the network afloat. But ten months should be plenty of time to perfect things, according to one journalist.

If Skype couldn't continue, how would the loss of the application affect you? Leave a comment.