Skype's Small-Business Play Shows It Means Business


Skype for Business, which debuted March 9, offers small-business users of Skype's low-to-no-cost Internet phone service a dedicated business support Web site, new certified Skype hardware and a Skype for Business control panel that manages group users and prepaid services, according to Skype, now part of eBay, San Jose, Calif. Between 25 percent and 30 percent of Skype's 75 million or so users utilize the Skype for Business functionality, said Henry Gomez, general manager of Skype North America.

Skype has made inroads into the channel and is offered to resellers by distributors such as Brightpoint, Plainfield, Ind.

Still, Tracy Butler, president of Acropolis Technology Group, a solution provider in Wood River, Ill., that caters to many SMBs, said Skype remains too much of a consumer product to be taken seriously by most business customers.

"Customers would throw me out on my ear if I came in suggesting Skype," Butler said. "Most will say, 'I'm not going to run my business on Skype.' "

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Brightpoint declined to quantify how Skype solutions were selling into the business market. But Brightpoint executives said that there was not much happening with Skype in the SMB space right now, according to a spokesperson. A Skype spokesperson, meanwhile, said the percentage of Skype users utilizing Skype for Business was determined by the number of users going to the business Web site but does not indicate specifically how Skype is being used.

Skype will soon face competition from TelTel, a Session Initiation Protocol-based VoIP software vendor that plans to launch a reseller program later this year, said Jack Chang, president and COO of TelTel, Santa Clara, Calif.

Last week, D-Link Systems, Fountain Valley, Calif., introduced its first wireless IP-based phone, which was loaded with TelTel software, said D-Link Media Relations Manager Darek Connole. At the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show, D-Link debuted an early version of the phone running Skype but the unit never went into production. The decision to go with TelTel was based on wanting "a better solution for broader content," Connole said. But D-Link still partners with Skype and sells a D-Link Skype USB phone adapter.

David Lair, business and technology consultant at Xpedeus Information and Technology Business Solutions, a Brandon, Fla., solution provider that offers a range of hosted VoIP solutions to SMBs, has never seen a customer running Skype. Other, more sophisticated VoIP offerings for small businessessuch as those from Packet8are affordable enough for SMBs. Looking for a lower-priced VoIP solution and sacrificing reliability is a mistake for a business, he said.

Skype makes it clear it isn't a telephony replacement service and can't be used for emergency calling. But the company's ambitions in the business space are real. Skype-friendly PBX systems are sold by Actiontec Electronics, and Polycom sells Skype-integrated business conferencing products. Skype also can interface with via