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As the Phone World Turns Part 5 – SkypeOut: Monetizing the Skype Network

Skype built its impressive (some would say “frightening”) network of users by providing free software for free Internet calls between users.  So how do they ever make money?  They’ve begun to answer that question.

Skype introduced its first paid service,  SkypeOut, in the summer of 2004 and claims over 1.2 million users as of April, 2005.  It allows outbound calls from a Skype-equipped computer to ordinary phones at very reasonable rates.  For example, calls to Western Europe or US landline phones are 1.7 euro cents per minute.  Calls to mobile phones in Europe are more expensive.  The markup over the access charges which Skype directly or indirectly pays the owners of the fixed or mobile last mile is consistently reasonable.

I use SkypeOut to avoid paying outrageous phone bills to hotels when I travel. Last year on a trip to Europe I prepaid ten euros to Skype on my credit card and, at about US$.02/minute, have yet to use it up despite lots of calling by me and Mary and some by overjoyed travel companions whom I let call home on my computer.  These are typically calls to the US, UK, and Belgium where my children are plus our business and nonprofit board and conference calls mainly to the US.  If made on a hotel phone or mobile phone, these calls would typically cost over $1.00/minute and sometimes much more.

The quality has always been good enough so that, even on a conference call, other participants are surprised to hear what technology we are using.  The only flaw, and it’s a big one, is that DTMF (touchtones) are not handled well so that is often difficult to check voice mail or do other automated functions with SkypeOut.

SkypeOut only works when there is an Internet connection wherever you are calling from.  It doesn’t have to be a great Internet connection, though.  The software is good at dealing with poor connections.  From an economic point of view, I don’t count what the hotel charges for an Internet connection (the rule seems to be: the more expensive the hotel, the more it charges for Internet access).  I don’t count the cost because I always pay whatever I have to pay for an Internet connection whether I’m going to use SkypeOut or not; but, if you are only paying for the Internet connection only to use SkypeOut, then this cost needs to go into your equation.

SkypeOut also works from WiFi hotspots.  Edward Vielmetti blogs about a Skype-Skype call (I originally thought it was SkypeOut) from an associate aboard an SAS flight equipped with Boeing’s in-cabin broadband Connexion Service but apparently SkypeOut doesn’t work well from inflight broadband yet.   Remember what calls from international flights used to cost?

Note that SkypeOut does NOT include any unlimited free calling to ordinary phones.  That wouldn’t work with Skype’s business model since they don’t charge any monthly subscription fee as Vonage, for example, does.  Free calling is only between those using Skype.  Skype founder Niklas Zennstrom is very clear that Skype’s model is to charge incrementally when there is a significant incremental cost to Skype.  Calls to ordinary phones cost Skype per minute so they charge for them on a per minute basis and use them to earn revenue.  Calls between Skype users have no significant incremental cost to Skype and so they are given away free in order to build the size of Skype’s network and create a market for paid services.

Skype now has two new paid services in Beta:  SkypeIn and Skype Voice Mail.  More about them later.

The first post in this series is everything you ever wanted to know about legacy access charges.

The second is about the cost of “free”.

The third explains Metcalfe’s Law of network value.

The fourth is about how Skype built huge network value.

The sixth is about Skype reproducing the OLD telephony business model with SkypeIn.

A related post contains a very short abstract of what Skype founder Niklas Zennstrom said at VON (Voice On the Net) Canada and a way to download the slides of my talk there.


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» VOIP Market Primer from Buyout Blog
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Tom Evslin from Fractals of Change , Has an excellent series of posts on Skype, more specifically on the business/economic model of Skype, Part 4 & Part 5. Excerpts: Skype’s success in the eighteen months or so since it launched... [Read More]

» Are you on Skype - 2 from The CIO Weblog
Tom Evslin from Fractals of Change , Has an excellent series of posts on Skype, more specifically on the business/economic model of Skype, Part 4 Part 5. Excerpts: Skypes success in the eighteen months or so since it... [Read More]


Tom Evslin


Thanks for the correction. I have corrected the text of the blog.



Nothing to comment about the "impressive save of money".
But that was due to Skype as much as to the fact of using VoIP.

It is not that Skype offered something "impressive" or "frightening", it's the fact it offered it in the right way.

The exciting of VoIP is not only in saving money, it is what you can do with it.
In other words, it is the applications.

And not only the applications of today, it is the million applications of tomorrow, it is not the present, it is the future.

Sometime I think where would we be if Bill Gates had some sort of competition, if there would have been not one, but many OS on the market, talking to each other, having the need to find something new.

And where would all the Hackers be, having the burden to enter thousands of OS, instead of the easy task to study just one?

For example, you talk about avoiding the telephone bills of Hotels.
I am wondering if there could be any chance to fight against the monopoly of the Airports, where telephone calls are really ourageously expensive.

Instead of Hot Spots where you have to configure your laptop, it would be much more convenient to find a VoIP provider, may be somebody who sold:

"One magazine and a free call home!"

No headset, no need of portable computers, you buy a magazine or you drink a coke and you can also call home.

If I was a Hotel owner I would offer VoIP as a free "Value Added Service" and I am sure, I WOULD GET A LOT OF CUSTOMERS.

I wrote to the Beat Western chain, offering them wonderful hardware, at cheap prices too, I had no answer.

I guess it would have been a whole different matter if my name was Skype.

That is how the World goes on...



Edward Vielmetti

Note re my Skype call to an airplane - it was a Skype-to-Skype call, not a SkypeOut call. As such the sound quality was much better.

I have noticed some really bad artifacts calling out from SkypeOut through the PSTN into someone else's VOIP phone, enough to make the call too poor quality to carry on a business conversation.


I am now using Skype and SkypeOut on my Dell X30 Pocket PC with an earbud. Works relatively well and in major cities you can always find a free hotspot. Another note - look at the skype website for news about regular wireless handsets that integrate PSTN and Skype. Very cool. Skype does not equal Hype!

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