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The Skype message is loud and clear

I am very excited, sitting here on this rainy afternoon to write this column. In the past year I have embraced technology in a big way again and I have never been more inspired.There is lots to share and explore when it comes to opportunities on the Internet. And it is the online world where entrepreneurial spirit is really peaking. An overwhelming number of Internet initiatives warrant a closer look. Skype is one of them.

Everyone wants to know where to invest their hard-earned money. Property, gold, the stock market – where is there growth?

Well, Internet consumer spend around the world grew at over 30% last year. And it will continue to grow at this incredible rate for the next decade. As more and more of the world gets exposed to high-speed Internet access, so will Internet activity be on the increase. This is the place you want to be.

I am involved in a new high-tech online venture and so far it is going from strength to strength. The Internet represents a whole new kind of revolution and in this new column I will try to highlight the leading endeavours in this space.

The world is changing, faster than we realise. The way we shop, talk, interact, socialise, and work is going to change in fundamental ways. For example, think of how much money you spend on your cellphone each month.

People have anxiety over this. How often have you looked at your watch when on that long call, chatting away during peak hours on that expensive cellphone? Wouldn’t you love an alternative?

I got a voice message on my Skype voice mail the other day. It went like this “Hi Ronnie, if you get this message it means that the GSM cellphone operators are going to have a real problem soon.”

As you can see I got the message loud and clear.

My Skype phone has become second nature to me. I run Skype on my laptop and it allows me to speak to any other Internet users that are running the Skype program. You can download it from www.skype.com. It is the fundamental example of packet-switched telephony.

In other words, it is the first real revolution in the area of VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol). And, not only can I talk to other Skype users, but I can call people on their landlines using Skype.

This is the service called “SkypeOut”. I buy blocks of minutes (like a video shop contract) using my credit card and I can then dial normal land line numbers at a fraction of the cost that I am used to paying. The service is so easy to use and it is stable and loaded with functionality.

SkypeMore than 190 000 people sign up for Skype everyday. More than 250 million copies of the software have been downloaded from the www.skype.com web site since its inception. These numbers are staggering.

If I ever go overseas I always have my laptop with me. If you call me via Skype you will always find me because my hotel room is online and wherever I go there is invariably a hot spot somewhere where I can check my e-mail, my voice mail messages, etc. And, if I want to call someone back in South Africa I can do so via Skype – which is a real piece of cake.

One of the barriers to getting into something like Skype is simple psychology. People like to hold a phone when they talk to someone else on the other side of the line, or in this case, the virtual line.

So, to overcome this hurdle we now are able to purchase “Skype phones”. This simply means a physical phone handset that typically plugs into your USB port. I bought one from Digital Planet and it cost me less than R200. Works like a dream. Now I don’t have to sit hunched over my laptop talking to my computer microphone (which looks really weird!)

Ok, I hope you are with me here. Let’s recap. I power up my laptop in a place where there is Internet access, like at the office, my home, News Café, Mugg & Bean, the shopping mall, the airport, er, most places in fact.

I have my Skype program running at all times which means that when ever I am online (ie, connected to the Internet) I can use my Skype phone to make and receive calls.

And just went you thought it couldn’t get any better, they brought out SkypeIn. Like its name implies, this sits on the other side of the fence to SkypeOut. I can get a SkypeIn number, in America for example, which is basically just an American phone number.

If I put this on my business card people will think I have an American office or something. And if they call this number it will ring on my Skype phone. If I am not online then it will go through to my Skype voicemail.

Someone in America calling my SkypeIn number won’t even know I am using Skype! The whole process is transparent. An American guy wanting to do business with someone doesn’t want to make long distance calls.

SkypeIn has made it seamless and cost effective to communicate on a global level.

You may be wondering about the costs here. Yes, you need a computer and you need to have Internet access. My ADSL (high-speed) access at home costs me around R500 a month. Since I have started using Skype my home phone bill dropped by over R1 000 a month so the maths seems obvious here.

The basic use of Skype is free. My Skype voice mail costs me 20 US dollars a year and my SkypeOut service costs me 10 US dollars for a block of units which seems to last forever. I use SkypeOut to call America at least three times a week and I have never once looked at my watch when on the phone.

Talk may be cheap in most countries, but here in South Africa we are getting overcharged in a big way when it comes to telephony. Check out Skype. It will give you a lot to talk about.

Download SKYPE today…

  • Ronnie Apteker is one of the founders of Internet Solutions, the country’s largest corporate internet service provider. He is also a movie producer, an author of two books and sometimes a stand up comedian.

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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