Skype has continued to make enterprise inroads as an affordable and reliable VoIP solution, and one Chicago-based company has taken that to the next level, deploying a gateway that bridges Skype to corporate desk phones.
The Chicago headquarters of Eastern Accents, a manufacturer of luxury bedding and decorative home furnishings, is in constant contact with its branch office in China and international vendors across the globe.
According to Eastern Accents' IT director, Elvin Rakhmankulov, those calls -- necessary to keep the business running -- were costing the company a bundle in long-distance charges.
"Home furnishings is increasingly a global business," he said. "Manufacturing, design and sales involves a huge amount of person-to-person interaction, much of which takes place by voice."
Using the corporate 3Com voice system, Eastern Accents initially tried to create a direct VoIP connection between Chicago and China, but the connection was fraught with latency and jitter, making international calling troublesome -- indeed, nearly impossible.
Rakhmankulov turned to Skype, a popular Internet-based VoIP calling service. But to give hundreds of employees the Skype capabilities would require that they all have a headset and microphone connected to their PCs. Also, each Skype phone number would need a different computer, which would negate the cost-saving benefits of using Skype in the first place.
After some investigation, Rakhmankulov came across the VoSKY Exchange, a Skype-certified VoIP gateway, made by Actiontec Electronics, which integrates to the office phone system without requiring changes to the existing PBX equipment, desk phones, user PCs or user phone behavior.
According to Actiontec, VoSKY Exchange is a business-class tool that can support applications such as Skype trunking, inter-office connectivity, remote VoIP access and Web click-to-call. It is rack mountable and stackable to support 16 concurrent inbound and unlimited outbound Skype calls, meaning that corporations can use free Skype-to-Skype calls and low-cost SkypeOUT international calls.
VoSKY Exchange also centralizes all Skype activities to a single computer and works with any TDM or IP-PBX, according to Actiontec.
"Our people can just pick up their desk phone and make a low-cost international VoIP call as easily as calling across the street," he said.
In the year or so since Eastern Accents added VoSKY Exchange to its voice system, there have been no problems with latency or jitter, he said. In total, Eastern Accents has reduced its overseas calling costs by more than 30%.
"Compared to what we were paying before, we're not paying anything," he said.
In recent months, Skype has become a viable VoIP tool for companies that are looking to save money while reaping the benefits of some advanced VoIP features.
According to Yankee Group senior vice president Zeus Kerravala, Skype offers high-quality voice that in many cases is free, while also offering a more affordable international calling package. Kerravala added that Skype is the perfect solution for today's "anywhere worker," the latest breed of worker who can't be tied to a desk or any specific location.
"It's perfect for companies with a lot of global employees," he said. "You get free calls and presence status. You can chat and move files across it. So you get more features for less money. It's hard to find a problem with that."
One issue, which has been raised many times with Skype in the enterprise, is that IT has relatively little control over its use. Solutions such as VoSKY Exchange give control back to IT, however.
Another problem is that since Skype uses the Internet as a transport, quality can sometimes be unpredictable, Kerravala said, especially when Skype goes off-net. But he said that Skype-to-Skype calls, regardless of distance, retain high call quality, meaning that they have clear audio and don't fall victim to latency and jitter.
"Skype builds the codecs into the endpoints," he said. "A regular phone is narrow-band audio; Skype is wide band, so you get higher-quality calls."
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