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July 16, 2008
Skype, the communications phenomenon most responsible for putting international phone calling on the Internet, has a user interface/contact list residing on millions of desktops all over the world. It makes a home for many “Skype Extras,” plug-in applications designed by third parties and free for download. These add various functions to the basic Skype voice/video/chat/file transfer program, and one of them, high-definition conferencing (HD-C) from a company called Vapps, is also Skype’s own internal choice for inter-office, international audio conferencing.
Today, Skype has conferencing capability but it is not designed to handle more than 25 callers. Skype delivers an impressive, better-than-PSTN sound quality between two broadband users on opposite sides of the planet. The secret is the rapid growth of broadband to the home and the transmission of wideband audio: a signal with a bit rate fast enough to transport four times the range of voice frequencies as traditional, copper-wire telephony.
“We needed to find a solution for our company-wide broadcast meetings that would allow over a hundred people to dial in simultaneously,” said Chris Burton, Skype IT manager. “We needed call statistics, and we needed to have control functions while on the call. Today, we use Vapps together with our own product, Skype, to host large company meetings for more than a few hundred people.”
Two years ago, Vapps, a Hoboken, N.J., startup, began offering hosted audio conferencing services. By October 2007, Vapps’ patent-pending technology provided a way to share Skype’s you-are-there audio quality among as many as 500 Skype participants in hosted, virtual meeting rooms. Equally important, Vapps also opened its conferencing platform to the world of traditional telephony and mobile users. It allowed those with mobile or landline phones to dial into the same conference rooms through regular phone system DID (direct inward dial) numbers: local, toll free or national numbers (used in Europe) in 11 different countries. That sealed the deal for Skype. Like any company, it needed to admit those who were on the road or not at their computer into audio conferences.
Today, Skype’s internal phone meetings of more than 10 endpoints — or meetings involving any PSTN endpoints — take place through Vapps’ high-definition service, often conferencing groups of people who are physically sitting in corporate meeting rooms in San Jose, Calif.; Tallinn, Estonia; Prague, Czech Republic; and London. Those around conference tables speak into Polycom IP or IP-adapted speaker phones. Individuals use Skype on laptops or handhelds and dial directly into the conference room without having to enter additional digits, or they phone in from the road. On company-wide broadcasts, the presenter speaks into an encrypted wireless microphone that feeds into a Skype client, which is “dialed” into the high-definition conferencing call as the moderator. All other participants are muted and simply listen to the audio stream.
“We use Vapps’ HD-C for most Skype broadcast conferences, and whenever we call an off-site number,” said Antoine Bertout, Skype partner relations manager, based in Skype’s London office. “We are happy to see that partners like Vapps, who are members of our developer program, can become our suppliers and lead the evolution of the conferencing segment.”
Vapps offers other advantages in addition to integrating Skype and PSTN-based attendees. “First, we get to use presence. We see if someone is available for an ad-hoc conference via Skype, and can make the call or schedule one with drag-and-drop from the contact list. I can also dial out to those on PSTN mobiles or landlines without having a phone myself.
“If you’re late to a scheduled call, Vapps also sends you a reminder as soon as you’re free to dial or Skype in.” Bertout also enjoys being able to use his native French to find features on the conferencing interface. If they’re using the plug-in within the Skype interface, they can also use Mandarin Chinese, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish and Polish in addition to English.
“We get great feedback about the quality and the service is really reliable,” Chris Burton noted. “It’s also great that I can control the conference on a live Web interface and see who and where people are dialed in.”
Finally, Skype is more than a customer to Vapps – it is also a partner. Since Vapps is also a member of the Skype Developer Program, Skype users can easily access Vapps through the Skype Extras Manager. The Skype Extras Manager gives exposure to Vapps and allows the more than 309 million registered Skype users around the world to expand their Skype functionality and enrich their Skype conversations by downloading the Vapps plug-in and trying it out.
Read more about:Agents
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