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What the Skype Acquisition Could Mean for Enterprise UC

Big news last week--Skype agreed to be purchased by Microsoft for $8.5 billion. You’ve probably read plenty of coverage on this by now, including on NoJitter. The video press conference with Steve Ballmer and Tony Bates is a good one to watch, and emphasizes that it will be later this calendar year before the deal closes. Also, the podcast is very worthy, based on the diversity of UC Strategies Expert viewpoint.

What does this mean for Unified Communications (UC) in the enterprise? To set the stage, let's notice that Skype now has 170 million connected users of which over 30 million are simultaneously on-line at peak times. Skype is now the world's largest carrier of international real-time communications with 207 billion minutes of voice and video conversations in 2010, of which 40% included video. And, they support a UC suite--presence, IM, voice, video and desk sharing--across the spectrum of endpoints: PCs (Windows, Mac and Linux), smart phones (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, and more), and televisions (Panasonic and Samsung). Plus, all this has been happening in the cloud--no on-premise equipment needed. With the stage set, let's look at where this will have an effect on UC in the enterprise.

First, this is very likely to accelerate many UC applications that involve mobile personnel or involve business-to-business communication or involve clients and consumers. Surely, Microsoft will hook Skype clients up to the Microsoft Office software and to Microsoft Office 365, the cloud-based version of Office. Employees, partners and consumers can easily get a Skype client (if they don't already have one or two) and the connection will certainly be a secure federation between Office software and Skype. For employees, this can simplify the delivery, management and TCO of UC for mobile workers. For business partners, it will become just natural to leave Skype open on the desktop (perhaps embedded in Outlook or in Microsoft Lync) to view presence-based availability between the two firms and then click-to-communicate via IM, adding voice or video when needed. For customers and consumers this may make less of a difference, since best practices are to build communications into the customer-facing web portals, but where it makes sense to have a persistent communications channel, the Skype model may be the most convenient, practical and economical.

Second, this confirms that the future of communications is from a UC (software) client, much more than a desktop phone (whether IP or TDM). Pretty impressive that Skype has moved steadily to assure that all UC features, including video, are available on the whole range of devices. Skype was really the first company to successfully offer widely adopted voice and video over Internet Protocol (VoIP) on the data channels of mobile smart phones. Skype started in Luxemburg, on Europe's robust GSM network, so the concept was well proven there, even before it arrived in the US and other non-GSM countries. Enterprises who are considering the move away from desk phones may have just found another reason.

Third, this validates populist video communications. There are a lot of folks who use Skype video to keep in touch with friends and relatives. We'll pass on the personal anecdotes, but there's no doubt this is true. As to the populist comment, let’s notice that the standard Skype offer is certainly "good enough" video; they support HD video with an HD webcam and on HD TVs, but the off-the-shelf video is plenty good for most users. Enterprises that are considering or deploying video will have a lot more information to help them plan and allocate bandwidth between IM, voice, standard video, and HD video.

Fourth, this either validates or opens up a new international carrier option for most enterprises. Skype has already started on this with their "Skype for Business" initiative. Case studies show that businesses are already saving money by connecting remote users to enterprise calls and conferences via Skype. With Microsoft support of that connectivity, perhaps we will see a new wave of investments justified by international toll cost savings.

Fifth, this reshapes the UC landscape for enterprise UC planning and decision making. One of my panelists in the Interop Las Vegas 2011 "Unified Communications: State of the Art" panel this past week said, "For market share purposes, I consider presence, instant messaging (IM), and voice to be the minimum set to qualify as a UC supplier." On that basis, Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype will put that combined team far in the lead. Figure that by 2012, Skype will pass 200 million users and that Microsoft will likely have 150 million standard CAL (client access license) licenses which include presence, IM and peer-to-peer voice and video. So, even without adoption of the Conferencing and Plus (Enterprise Telephony) CALs and without Windows Live and Office 365, Microsoft/Skype could be serving over 350 million UC users, which is a significant multiple of the number of licensed users for any of the IP Telephony-based UC or Collaboration vendors.

So where are the rubs? Well, the deal won’t close until later this year. So, no official roadmaps can be offered while the deal is under regulatory review. Also, this does not directly address the growth of social networking, especially in the consumer spaces; the major social networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) are already text-based communications vehicles, so will they be a threat to undermine the value of this deal? And, it will take some time in 2012 to establish the integrations mentioned above between Microsoft’s premise and cloud offerings and the Skype infrastructure? But none of those are likely to be show-stoppers.

I'll close by noticing that Enterprise Connect Orlando 2011 (formerly VoiceCon) was the place to be in early March. The five keynotes (videos here) were from Avaya, Cisco, HP and Microsoft and Skype. Perhaps there really is a magic kingdom in Orlando. I wonder what Enterprise Connect can cook up for 2012?

Your comments are welcome.