Interview: the future of Skype

Mike Bartlett, Skype's Director of Product Management, outlines the strategy

TechRadar: What about mobile? The 3 Skypephone mark two is out soon?

Mike Bartlett: Yeah, that's due in September. There's also Skype through your mobile, which is also in beta at the moment, that allows you to download and install Skype onto a number of existing devices. In the past, we struggled a little bit with mobile because you have all these different platforms – you have Symbian, Java and so on – and we were trying to address all of those in one go, with numerous different versions.

TechRadar: What about the conflict between Skype and traditional telephone companies and mobile networks?

Mike Bartlett: Well, you can see on 3, for example, they see Skype as an application that can leverage an unlimited data plan, so they are not as threatened by us. They are getting a good subscription base value and number of new customers and retaining customers. And we are providing a good application for their customers.

TechRadar: What about the various problems users report with Skype? Spamming? Calls dropping out? How are you tackling those problems?

Mike Bartlett: Well, look at email, for example you get a lot more spam there than you do on something like Skype! But sure, we are doing a lot at the moment to try to protect our users from spamming. In the past we had some problems where people were being contacted in an unsolicited way and we didn't have mechanisms in place that we could use to block those sorts of things. We have those now and over the last year we've been actively attacking this problem. If you get contacted by somebody you don't want to contact you, you can now very easily immediately block that person. Also, when you get authorization requests from another user, we now hide that user's picture as well – so you don't get any embarrassing pictures popping up on your screen! [laughs]

We're looking across the entire peer-to-peer cloud and trying to detect these things early. We have a dedicated team of people working on this and we feel that we are on top of it and will continue to be on top of it.

In terms of call quality, we also do a lot. We have large teams of people here, in Estonia, in Stockholm and in the US concentrating on improving call quality. Calls are, obviously, going across the internet – we're leveraging the internet, so if a router falls down somewhere, then we transition the call across to somewhere else to make sure call quality is consistent. We're also doing stuff with wideband and ultra-wideband, where the quality of the call sounds better than traditional telephone calls, because we are utilizing a wider range of sound technology so we are not cancelling out the top and bottom ranges so much, so the voice sounds a lot crisper. We're doing a lot of research on this right now. We feel that we have the strongest call quality out there and we want to maintain this position.

TechRadar: What of small business users? That seems to be more of a focus for you than it has been in the past.

Mike Bartlett: Yeah, over thirty per cent of our users also run Skype in their business environment, which has grown considerably over the last few years. So we're developing products like the Skype for Business control panel – which lets small business owners control all their Skype Credit expenditure, buying up a chunk for a group of employees and so on.

As for issues with firewalls, particularly with bigger organisations, what we don't want to ever to is to circumvent those firewalls. Which is a bad thing and would make us very unpopular! We just need to continue to work to educate people that Skype is a safe and secure product to use in the enterprise and help them understand the value it brings – in terms of cost-savings and in terms of ease of use for video conferencing. Skype feels much more like being in the same room as the other people you are on the video conference with – so you have all the concurrent cost savings in terms of time, travel and so on.

TechRadar: What of the longer term? What of next year and beyond?

Mike Bartlett: Firstly, video is key to what we are doing. Making that video calling experience richer. Continuing to improve upon the quality of the video.


Secondly, mobility. We want to get Skype beyond desktop downloads. You can have this video call, this instant messaging session, wherever you are. What we are doing with MySpace is also interesting in this area. We just want to keep working on making Skype more ubiquitous and more available.