Skype will make a formal entry into the value-added channel as it prepares to take the wraps off a partner program -- an effort to integrate its popular peer-to-peer VoIP software application into business environments with the help of VARs, ISVs and other potential partners.
Skype will offer lead generation, marketing support and technical support, said Chaim Haas, a Skype spokesman from the public relations firm Kaplow, confirming some details of Skype's program to Channelweb.com Friday.
He didn't disclose pricing, didn't specify the exact date of program launch and didn't confirm if Skype had yet recruited any partners, but said Skype is inviting potential solution providers to sign up for more information through its Web site.
"We're still in the process of finalizing all the specific details and what we're going to be asking of channel partners and how we're going to be reimbursing them," Haas said.
The confirmation comes the same week that Skype's Chief Strategy Officer Christopher Dean discussed Skype's partner program at the VON Conference & Expo in South Beach, Fla. (A copy of his presentation can be downloaded here).
Dean said he sees Skype's need for the channel as helping to expand coverage, reduce selling costs and provide access to industry expertise, and said Skype wishes to partner with wireline carriers, wireless carriers, MSOs, OEMs, VARs, application developers and ISVs as it builds out its business presence.
Dean also discussed the proliferation of unified communications in business settings, as well as adoption of cloud services, and then framed Skype around the idea that while principally a consumer-centric product, Skype is finally seeing penetration as a business tool. According to a Skype survey, 35 percent of users now use Skype for business purposes, and Dean also quoted research suggesting that 90 percent of smartphones have or would soon have Skype available for download.
Dean noted in his presentation that it would educate service providers through an online Skype Academy. Skype also has set up a spare-looking partner page on its Web site that invites potential solution providers to sign up for more information.
"Skype is looking for service partners who have the knowledge to advise, guide and service business customers' needs for VoIP, SIP, PBX and UC solutions," the introduction on the site reads. "In exchange, this program will offer you the benefits of partnering with a global leader in communications software, the opportunity to capture new customers and to tap into incremental service revenue streams."
Next: Will VARs Embrace Skype?
Skype has been making a number of moves lately designed to advance its business proliferation. The company earlier this year launched Skype for Asterisk and Skype for SIP, and ShoreTel was earlier this month confirmed as the first IP telephony vendor to offer Skype SIP integration.
Earlier this week, Skype announced it had cleared interoperability certification with Cisco's Unified Communications 500 Series for Small Business. That means Cisco VARs can register for a Skype Service Partner Program, and if they pass a certification exam, integrate Skype for SIP in the Cisco Unified Communications 500 Series For Small Business they sell.
A number of VARs contacted by Channelweb.com Friday said they'd be interested to hear more from Skype but didn't have enough details to say if they'd sign up to become Skype VARs.
"I'm not sure what they're going to charge or how they're going to make money, but people have a hard time paying for things that are free," said Ben Berg, CEO and co-founder of Transcom Telecommunications, a Lakewood, Calif.-based solution provider. "I'll need to see what their model is because I have no idea what they're doing yet. It's a consumer product, so I'm not really sure."
Several VARs that specialize in IP communications did say that Skype integration has come up among customers in the past.
"It would be of interest to us, yes," said Robert Keblusek, senior vice president of business development at Sentinel Technologies, a Downers Grove, Ill.-based solution provider. "I've been challenged in the past to see how we can leverage Skype. Not in large volume, because mainly it's been a residential type of product. I think it would be interesting, but the business products would have to be something that has appeal and value-add beyond what's already available."
Skype needs to pitch a channel program around how Skype will enhance existing products such as Cisco voice or Microsoft collaboration products, he said.
"If Skype has a compelling offering, there's definitely room for the channel," Keblusek said. "No one's approached us or anything and I haven't heard about it from any of our existing partners, so it would be new to me. But this could be a great opportunity."
Skype's entry into the channel plays out at the same time Skype and its parent company, eBay, are embroiled in a lawsuit with Skype founders Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom, the owners of Joltid and Joost.
The lawsuits threaten to derail eBay's planned sale of a majority stake in Skype to a group of private investors that includes Silver Lake Partners, Index Venture, Andreessen Horowitz and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board -- a deal that eBay confirmed at the beginning of September for $2.75 billion.
eBay acquired Skype in 2005 for $3.1 billion. The online retail auction behemoth first said back in April 2009 it would attempt to spin Skype off through an initial public offering, but would consider bids that offered "attractive valuation."