Most of us have heard of Skype by now, it being one of the most prominent web services of any kind. Indeed, a lot of people don’t even really think about Skype as a VoIP provider, because unlike most other VoIP providers the name is more famous than the medium. This doesn’t necessarily mean, of course, that Skype is better than all the competition; not least because every customer will be looking for different things. But if you’re looking for an off-the-shelf option that doesn’t require you to be an IT or communications expert, then Skype has a lot to recommend it. So what makes it a market leader?
Cost: It is pretty hard to fault Skype in terms of cost, in no small part because of the breadth of options that they provide in terms of how to pay and what to pay. You can choose to use Skype Credit, which allows you to add to your balance as and when you please and just let it fall into disuse if you’re not getting much out of the service; you won’t be locked into a complicated and unbreakable contract. You can pay monthly if you wish, and have a number of options as to how you do this. There are also three distinct calling plans which are payable monthly: US and Canada, North America and World, which cost $2.99, $7.99 and $13.99 respectively and give you unlimited minutes to a range of destinations. For cost, Skype is worth a 9/10.
Ease of Installation: It could scarcely be any easier to install Skype. Literally all you need is an internet connection. If you want to use it for voice calls you will of course need a headset or a microphone as well, and if you have a webcam then you can use Skype for video calling with no additional installation needed. You don’t even need any additional equipment (such as a CD or an adapter) because it is a downloaded piece of software. Just download, follow the installation wizard and you are ready to go. As long as your computer supports it (and if it is internet-ready it almost certainly does), there won’t be any problems. This is worth a 10/10.
Tech Support: This is the first category in which Skype really lets itself down as a dedicated VoIP provider. There is a support center as part of the downloaded system, which is also available on the website. However, aside from a FAQ system there really isn’t much support going on. A link to the user forums, a network report system and a search function are about it. Contacting customer services is nigh-on impossible and even if you find an email address it is not likely to lead to anyone who can help you. Everything is geared back towards the support center so, if you have a fault to which you can’t find a solution in the support center, it’s touch and go whether you’ll get it fixed any time soon. Unfortunately, this makes for a mark of 5/10.
Quality of Voice Service: The level of voice service is more than decent, although it is worth remembering that Skype’s real speciality lies in the fact that it is used for video chat. You’ll find better voice services elsewhere, although it is unlikely you will find them for the same price. Because you don’t need dedicated adapters and equipment, the quality of the voice transmission will depend heavily upon the equipment you buy yourself. Get a good headset and you’ll have very good voice service. Buy the first one you see and it might not be so great. The instant messenger service might help you out in a pinch. A mark of 7/10 which is not bad, considering it’s not a specialized VoIP system.
Speed: Skype has a very big network of users and, to some extent, the speed of the service depends on how many people are online at a given time. Major news sites have been known to crash when something huge goes down, and by the same token if everyone on Skype signs on at the same time the service will lag somewhat. It wouldn’t be right to hold that against Skype, though – a lot of subscribers cannot be seen as a drawback in any real sense – and for most of the time, it runs very smoothly and at a good pace. This earns Skype a mark of 8/10.
Features: Skype is not exactly laden with features, it is fair to say. What is there, though, is very good and you’d be hard pushed to find something important that has been left out. Without a doubt, the video calling aspect is a headline as is the ability to video conference, send and download files and a very handy “screen sharing” system. If you want to call another Skype user, it will be completely without cost. You can also use it as an instant messenger service, and this application can be used in conference mode too. Overall, even if there aren’t a lot of esoteric features, what you will find here is a lot of useful services. 8/10 is a reasonable mark in this category.
Overall: A mark of 47/60 for Skype, which reflects the fact that it is not a dedicated VoIP service as such, and additionally the fact that they could stand to be a lot better on tech support. However, the usability and the convenience of the service is hugely impressive, and the fact that you don’t need to wait for dedicated equipment to be sent out will also win it a lot of fans. People already talk about “Skype-ing” one another and, as Google and Twitter can tell you, when an online application becomes a verb that means it has hit the big time.