What is Skype?

Written by:  Shane Burley • Edited by: Tricia Goss
Published Jul 11, 2008

Skype has revolutionized the way we can interact, opening up a world of online communciations that have the telecommunications industry scrambling for answers. Here we look at Skype, the new (ish) software that is changing the dynamics of the telecommunications industry forever.

The Next BIG Thing

A lot of people have been talking about this new program Skype and how it has the international telecommunications conglomerates scrambling.  Though it is simply a program that allows the user to make phone calls over the internet, it is much more than that to the people who rely on it for international communication.  Why has this program become just as revolutionary to the phone industry as peer-to-peer and Bit Torrent software was to the film and recording industries?

The software was created by Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, the team that blew on to the scene with the multi-media file sharing program Kazaa.  The program received immediate popularity and was eventually sold for a large sum to eBay in 2005.  Now it has become the standard for international business and anyone who refuses to pay the gargantuan prices for phone service.

How It Works

Skype allows the user to get a local number for their Skype line, which is available in a number of countries including the United States.  Skype users download the program for free, set up a phone number, and are then able to make calls through their computer to regular phone lines or other Skype users.  Phone calls to other Skype users over the Skype network are free, while calls to mobile phones and land lines have a cost.  To setup cost based calling, you have to create a Skype financial account where you deposit money, either as you go or on a monthly basis, and the money is then taken out of your account based on the number of minutes you use.  Though the rate differs depending on where you call, international calls usually run around 2.1 cents per minute.  This is significantly less that any mobile or landline carrier.

Skype now offers video phone, as well as both video and audio conference calling, which is why it is quickly becoming the new standard in the business realm.  This is hugely beneficial and eliminates the need for complex phone and video systems. Rather, Skype can do all this for free.

The Expanding Nature

As Skype has expanded it has tried to extend its reach by creating a community that mimics the online social centers like MySpace and FaceBook.  It is now available on mobile phones and online gaming devices such as the Sony’s PSP, which further interrupt the hold that telecommunications companies have over phone traffic.  In the early years of Skype you could call from your computer but that was not as easy as just making a call from your cellular phone.  Now with the service available even on these portable devices it is easy to see how the software is challenging organizations like AT&T.


There are a number of issues and controversies that have been raised about the software, mainly because of security risks.  Many consider phone conversations to be the type of communication that should come with a large amount of protection from interception and surveillance.  Now that it is a computer network issue the problems that are associated with internet connections, like hacking and having “chatter” on a live network, are subject to suspicion.  Now that it is owned by eBay there are even more concerns because the company is not very protective of its customer’s information and is usually willing to give up that information to law enforcement.  In contrast to this, Skype is one of the few services that has not yet complied with the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which the Federal Communications Commission says gives the FBI the right to use wiretapping after securing a warrant.

An Online Revolution

It seems that Skype is a new revolution in internet communications, now not only taking over the competitive field of telecommunication but completely changing its dynamic.  Skype now persuades users to create “friend lists” of other people on Skype.  In this way Skype will not just be a cheap alternative for phone conversation, but a new way of approaching distance communication.  In March of this year it was finally released on open source Linux, which has brought the software full circle on to every PC operating system.  This new software is not just a passing fad but an element in the way that internet technologies have revolutionized and personalized communication for the average consumer.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Email to a friend