Is Skype good enough for business communications? Not for this user

I know some of you are big-time Skype fans, but when you have call quality issues when talking to Skype via Skype, there’s a problem.

Let me back up a bit.

I’ve never been a Skype user, which probably strikes a lot of people as absurd. But I don’t have a webcam or any close friends and family outside the States, so the 472 other communications tools available to me have worked just fine.

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Yet like a lot of consumers (and enterprises), I’ve been looking at the bills from my service provider and wondering if I could reduce telecom costs. Did I really need a land line? Especially when Skype charges $3 per month for unlimited U.S. and Canada calls, which makes the let’s-not-even-go-there monthly rate my cable company charges for residential VoIP all the more heart-wrenching. If this were just a personal decision, it’d be easy. But I work from home occasionally, and my job relies so heavily the ability to understand people on the phone clearly enough that I can accurately quote them. Even with the vast improvements to mobile networks in terms of quality and coverage, cell phone interviews are still a last resort for me.

I figured it couldn’t hurt to give Skype a shot though. Loved ones always make the best guinea pigs, so I first tried making a personal call first to someone who was on a cell phone within a two-mile radius. Quality was perfect on both ends. Feeling bolder, I used it for a phone interview I had scheduled with a U.K.-based market analyst for a news story. Despite getting the green light from Skype’s built-in bandwidth/VoIP call quality testing tool beforehand, the call was pretty awful. The audio was so muffled — not to the point that it was unintelligible, but enough that I found myself spending more energy trying to understand the subject’s words than his meaning.

I chalked up the problems to it being an international call (but was not eager to test Skype for business again). A few weeks later, I wound up working on’s recent story about whether enterprises will ever warm up to Skype for business communications. When I interviewed David Gurlé, vice president and general manager of Skype Enterprise (their enterprise business unit), he dialed into the conference line (unsurprisingly) via Skype. I happened to be working from home and using our residential VoIP.

Brought straight to you from the University of Epic Fail, my interview with Skype (via Skype) was like trying to talk to someone who was on a cell phone in the middle of nowhere (though I’m pretty sure they were calling from New York). I had to ask for sentences and entire topics to be repeated multiple times because the quality was just so, so bad and the audio often indecipherable. I couldn’t believe that I was hearing them (well, sort of) tell me about how wonderful their quality and reliability were. It felt like a bad joke.

Maybe I just have bad Skype juju or maybe the problem was on my service provider’s end (though I had no other issues that day).  Clearly, there are businesses and IT shops (granted, it seems are they are mostly SMBs) that have no problem with Skype. One IT pro in last week’s story even told me he has experienced more outages and performance problems with his LAN than with Skype. Still, it got me wondering — if Skype can’t even ensure the quality of their own communications, what Fortune 500 is going to rely on them?

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