Gradually, but now faster and faster, the Internet has become the key technology tool in the daily life of millions around the world. Maybe you started by just 'sailing' the internet, then emails became the main tool for both personal and business communication.
Then, last year, Rupert Murdoch, the US-Australian newspaper baron astounded the world by announcing in a landmark speech that print media had to embrace the Internet or die. Now it provides our music and soon, we are told, our TV.
It’s the Telco's who are shivering in their boots and the marine community wandering around the world is one of the beneficiaries.
What is the technology that is causing angst for the Telco's?
The key word is VOIP - Voice over Internet Protocol.
In 2003 two Dutch entrepreneurs, Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, the creators of the peer to peer Internet music sharing program KaZaA started the revolution which is now rocking the world of telecommunications.
Phone companies have traditionally charged users a large amount, often proportional to the distance, for long distance calls. Skype, the first major VoIP software, allowed people to talk over the Internet for free.
There has been a rush as many home users with broadband capability switched to Skype for placing their calls over the Internet. Skype being secure and encrypted end-to-end, has also attracted large corporations who are beginning to switch from their traditional phone companies for their internal calls.
Now over a hundred million Skype users world-wide are speaking to other Skype users for free. Skype also has paid services allowing users to call traditional telephone numbers (SkypeOut), receive calls from traditional phones (SkypeIn), and receive voicemail messages.
SkypeOut was a great invention for the sailing fraternity. Whether cruising the world or racing in a regatta, the ability to call other Skype users for free anywhere in the world, and to call normal telephones for around 3c a minute was already a boon for the whole community. Now with the introduction of ‘SkypeIn’ you can sail away anywhere and take a Sydney number with you. (I have just tried it, and it works! – no echo, good reception, amazing technology!)
When your friends or family phone your local number, it will phone your computer, anywhere in the world, for the cost of a local call. Of course, you need to be on-line – in an internet café, or connected to wireless internet in the marina – or naturally, connected by some method of broadband or an ADSL line.
The cost of the call for the user is a local call, and the cost for you is - nothing for the calls, just rental of the number - €10 for three months, and €25 for twelve months.
So if your home base is: Hong Kong S.A.R., China, Brazil, Japan, Denmark, Poland, Estonia, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, France, United Kingdom, Germany, United States of America or Australia, there’s a Skype local number for you. Just go to www.skype.com
Voicemail is attached, so that if you’re sailing away from home, you’ll get all your messages when you get to the next marina or internet café.
If SkypeIn proves as successful as its free internet-only equivalent, could it spell the end of lucrative international call monopolies for existing telcos, or even telcos themselves? No, responds Skype general manager for Asia Geoffrey Prentice.
'It makes great copy to talk about how we're going to take on and destroy the phone companies, but that's not the way it really is,' Mr Prentice said. 'We have a great respect for Telstra and those guys, and they are the ones that bring the broadband infrastructure that allows Skype to be successful.'
Justin Jameson, the Asia Managing director of global telco consultancy Spectrum Strategy, believes Skype's short-term effect on local telcos will be small but expects its medium-term impact to be 'enormous'.
'Ultimately, I expect voice call charges will fall to less than 1 per cent of their current level, with most customers simply paying a one-time monthly charge for broadband and voice. This launch is one more small step towards that,' he said.
But who pays for the maintenance of the telephone lines that have enabled internet connection throughout the world for many years. – or are landlines also headed for extinction?
In October last year, eBay completed its acquisition of Skype for about $2.5 billion USD in cash and stock, plus an additional $1.4 billion USD in performance incentives. Skype has revolutionised the way the Western world communicates, and while it touches almost every individual, it is especially great news of all for sailors.
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