Engineers at Skype, the internet-based telephone and message service, appeared to have solved a software problem on Friday that had shut down the system for more than 24 hours and left many of its 220m customers without service.
The Luxembourg-based company, owned by eBay, the online auction company, attempted to reassure its customers and blamed the problem, which prevented many users signing on to the service, on a software glitch rather than a cyber attack.
“The Skype system has not crashed or been victim of a cyber attack,” the company said in an online blog.
“This problem occurred because of a deficiency in an algorithm within Skype networking software. This controls the interaction between the user’s own Skype client and the rest of the Skype network.”
Nevertheless, the prolonged outage drew widespread comments from users and industry analysts, who cautioned that it highlighted the dangers, particularly for business users, of relying on a single service provider – especially one using relatively untested voice over internet protocol (VoIP) technology.
Industry experts believe the problems at Skype were specific to its service. However, some analysts speculated that Skype’s problems, coupled with the legal problems of Vonage, the leading US independent VoIP provider, and the failure of SunRocket, another internet telephony company, could undermine confidence in internet protocol communications as a whole and encourage users to return to more traditional telecoms carriers.
Mark Main, a senior analyst at Ovum, the European telecoms consultancy, said: “There is still a danger that services designed to be highly disruptive to traditional telecoms business models have been developed without sufficient regard for resilience, something we have been saying since consumer VoIP came to the fore during 2003.
“Telecoms engineering is no different to any other product development – there is always a commercial penalty to pay by compromising reliability or quality. You still broadly get what you pay for in telecoms,” he said.
Mr Main said Skype had grown rapidly, partly because of its low cost and simplicity.
“The bottom line is that while Skype is now a well established service, it has largely flourished through its simplicity, good enough quality/reliability, and user-endorsement.
“Skype will need to work hard to make this outage event a one-off or its loyal user base could be enticed away by other VoIP offerings. There is plenty of choice.”
If you are a Skype user--and there are legions of us out there--you are undoubtedly familiar with the SkypeOut feature of the service which enables calls not just to other Skype users but also to land lines and mobile phones. [As an aside, I prefer VoIP Stunt for computer-to-landline or cellphone calls--it's less expensive for my purposes and has better audio quality.] Yesterday, Skype had another sort of "SkypeOut" as the service went down for the entire day. The problem that the Financial Times identifies here is that many users have become used to Skype as a handy tool for business communications and the outage may have affected commerce. IMHO, the FT makes too much of this issue. If you rely on VoIP to communicate, you probably have the phone numbers of your counterparts or another service aside from Skype like VoIP Stunt: