Skype has formally announced its newest product for business users, Skype Connect.
Skype Connect, formally Skype SIP, is Skype’s () play at the IP-enabled PBX and Unified Communications (UC) market. With Skype Connect, businesses can now integrate the service into their existing PBX systems.
In addition to making outgoing calls at Skype rates from desktop phones, Skype Connect also lets businesses receive phone calls from other Skype users, landline or mobile phones, or from other phones on the corporate PBX. Also, Skype Connect can be configured to route calls to mobile numbers.
Skype is one of the most visible players in the consumer VoIP space, but it has a much smaller presence in the business world.
Skype first launched its Skype Connect Beta in March 2009, and according to its business blog now has more than 2,400 global customers. That’s not a bad start, but it pales when compared to some of the bigger players in this field.
Skype also faces stiff competition, not just from companies like Cisco — which has its own IP-PBX offerings — but from startups in the same space, including Bandwidth.com. Bandwidth.com offers SIP Trunking for businesses that want a cost-effective, in-house IP-PBX, and its Phonebooth Free and Phonebooth OnDemand products directly target SMBs.
Skype’s advantage, of course, is going to be that it has brand recognition with new customers. For small businesses that are transitioning to a phone system, IP or otherwise, for the first time, the Skype brand should have its own set of advantages.
Likewise, while other hosted IP-PBX systems have click-to-talk systems like Skype’s own interface (meaning users can initiate a phone call from a button on the Internet ()), Skype is a ubiquitous part of many consumer and business desktops.
Skype’s disadvantage, however, is that because it has been such a consumer-centric service, it’s unproven in the business support and infrastructure arena. Skype offers a new dedicated customer support option for Skype Connect users, but it’s going to also off-load some of its support to channel partners and VARs. Depending on the business, this may not be ideal.
Also, we find ourselves confused about Skype Connect’s pricing plan. Rather than bundling together plans with minute buckets or extensions, Skype is charging by the minute and by what it calls “channels.”
Incoming calls are free, and outgoing calls are charged according to Skype’s standard rates of 2.1 cents per minute. Users will also need to pay $6.95 a month per channel. A channel is the number of concurrent calls you want to make or receive at once. So if you want to have five different extensions that can all be in use at the same time, you’ll pay $34.75.
We really think it would be in Skype’s best interest to create some unified or bundled pricing plans for its business offerings, if only to make comparison shopping easier.
What do you think of Skype’s formal entrance into the corporate VoIP space? Let us know in the comments.