Niklas Zennstrom’s JV72 RAN passing Tasman Island at sunrise. 2009 Rolex Sydney to Hobart
Two Swedish techno-nerds Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis spent the noughties revolutionising music distribution and then telephony in the 21st century.
The two business partners who co-founded Kazaa, a peer to peer file-sharing service that became the source of free music to hundreds of millions of people, then started Skype the Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP), which has now changed the face of telephony world-wide.
Now a resident of Britain, Zennström has a strong connection with the Australian sailing scene. He began sailing as a seven year old and raced his minimaxi, the 72 footer Judel Vroljik designed Ran, in the 628 nautical mile Rolex Sydney Hobart; she was fifth boat home and won division 0 and then Zennström and his Ran II team were sixth across the line and eighth overall on handicap in 2010.
Definitely a citizen of the world, the Scandinavian, British and US educated entrepreneur believes there are no geographical borders to confine many very 20th century industries.
Zennström says 'Telephony is now just a software application. Charging for phone calls is something you did last century.' As he sees it, telephone companies provided the 'copper 'network but not the service but that has all changed.
His baby, Skype, has almost 700 million members in more than 200 countries and at one stage in March 2012 some 35 million people were online concurrently, most of them paying zero or very, very small fees...
However that did not bother Online-auction site eBay who bought a controlling interest in Skype in a US $2.6 billion deal. Its since been resold to Microsoft in a US$ 8 billion dollar with the founders retaining 14% of the company and now the dollars are flowing for the VOIP leader.
And there is an interesting connection for sailors, because Skype has become a marine industry comms tool of choice.
Professional sailors, owners, media and industry figures can be found on Skype.
So dominant is Skype, you find it on business cards and our own Sail-World has added it to the standard boat database it maintains for some 3,000 racing yachts.
While Skype is used for computer to computer, landline and mobile, for many of the offshore racing boats, it’s become the number one media application during yacht races.
Sydney sailing journalist Lisa Ratcliff pioneered the use of Skype in the Rolex Sydney Hobart media centre in 2009.
She said back then ‘it’s working well for everyone; great fast comments right from the nerve centre and for us without the usual problems of calling boats, plus it suits their timing as they are in charge of providing answers.’
Here are some examples of the messages that came through on Skype during the 2009 Hobart race. Your boat too can provide this degree of detail for the media. Your boat navigator or computer nerd has time to set up Skype on your boat for 2012 still.
Will Oxley, navigator, Yendys
[3:23:37 PM] Will: We had a great start on the pin end with Ran and Loki and got to the sea mark in good shape.
[3:24:48 PM] Will: We are hard on the breeze in 20-23 knots and a lumpy sea state. The wind is holding right of Rhumb line so the fleet are mostly proceeding seaward on starboard.
[3:25:12 PM] Will : We are all watching to see who will be the first to tack!
[3:25:51 PM] Will : Sorry to hear Wharro did not get far
Tom Addis, navigator, Alfa Romeo
[5:48:146 AM] Tom:got the ridge pretty well. always stressful going through transitions like that but we did as much homework as we could and it all went to plan.
[5:49:06 AM] Tom: aim was to be first boat out and cross at the narrowest point - big gains on the way out
Ian ‘Fresh’ Burns, co-navigator Wild Oats XI
[5:46:40 AM] WO:we managed to cross the ridge as it was spreading up
[5:46:55 AM] WO: we dove west (as did Alfa and Leopard)
[5:47:02 AM] WO: to get around it and we did
[5:47:11 AM] WO says: we never slowed more than 6-7 bsp
[5:47:27 AM] WO says: the guys behind got swallowed and are still there
[5:47:37 AM] WO says: we were the last through the gate
[5:47:45 AM] WO says: Alfa gets richer and richer
[5:47:52 AM] WO says: looking like handicap win too
[5:48:10 AM] WO says: it was a very calm nice night pretty warm
[5:48:17 AM] WO says: nice moon for most
[5:48:28 AM] WO says: and now breeze is coming in quite nicely form banks strait
[5:48:48 AM] WO says: we have one more transition to go when the NW meets SW
[5:49:08 AM] WO says: but Alfa hasn't made a miss- step yet and they are unlikely to
[5:49:35 AM] WO says: so far the race has favoured the leaders and in all probability will continue
[7:46:46 AM] Conrad: Boatspeed 6.0, weather sunny, very calm. Ran is just on our hip around 4 miles behind. Last night was very slow; we had two watches where speeds were down to 2 knots
[7:52:03 AM] Conrad: Our plan is to pick up the little wind acceleration between Flinders Is and the mainland, work our way through the calms off the Tassie Coast. It’s going to be pretty slow to the finish
As you can see it’s simple and easy, with no overhead, commonly Skype messages get through when all else fails. A few lines of text, is better than downloading all the files you just don’t need at sea with limited band-width.
File send too is easy; images taken from the boat slide through efficiently and there are other advantages too...
During the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Sail-World sent hundreds of megs of photos back to its Melbourne office for Photoshopping, resizing and uploading when the Chinese authorities had emails queued for hours.
A basic feature for Skype is screen share ... which allows the person you are talking to/working with to see your computer screen and vice versa …. its a tech help marvel.
Now most heavy phone uses have Skype on their mobile phones. For the 2012 Boxing Day start 12 John Curnow will be on Sydney Harbour using Skype on his mobile, talking to the Sail-World team.
When you call the Sail-World office, if everyone is out on the water, your call will be diverted to a mobile or voice box, via you guessed it .. Skype.
If you’ve not done it yet, go to www.skype.com and download the program. Grab a $30 USB, Skype headset and welcome to the 21st century.
If you’d like to experiment sending messages from your boat, you will find us at sailworldaustralia
The TetraMedia group's Sail-World.com, Powerboat-World.com and MarineBusinessWorld.com editors use Skype as their primary communication too, across the USA, UK, Europe, Asia, NZ and Australia.
Can you imagine what our phone bill would have been 'last century'?
So we say thanks Nik and we hope to see you back in Sydney for the 2013 Rolex Sydney to Hobart race.
You should too..