Skype for Asterisk Killed - The Lowdown

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Skype for Asterisk Killed - The Lowdown

In case you hadn't heard, Skype has decided to not renew the agreement for Digium's Skype for Asterisk, effectively killing Skype for Asterisk.

Skype for Asterisk will not be available for sale or activation after July 26, 2011.

Skype for Asterisk was developed by Digium in cooperation with Skype. It includes proprietary software from Skype that allows Asterisk to join the Skype network as a native client. Skype has decided not to renew the agreement that permits us to package this proprietary software. Therefore Skype for Asterisk sales and activations will cease on July 26, 2011.

This change should not affect any existing users of Skype for Asterisk. Representatives of Skype have assured us that they will continue to support and maintain the Skype for Asterisk software for a period of two years thereafter, as specified in the agreement with Digium. We expect that users of Skype for Asterisk will be able to continue using their Asterisk systems on the Skype network until at least July 26, 2013. Skype may extend this at their discretion.

Skype for Asterisk remains for sale and activation until July 26, 2011. Please complete any purchases and activations before that date.

Thank you for your business.

Digium Product Management

So basically, it sounds like Asterisk was granted favored status to connect as a native Skype client, but that has been revoked. The agreement is still good however until July 26, 2013 and you can still purchase licenses up till July 26, 2011. That may still be a hard pill to swallow for some.

Already, rumors and speculations are swirling that the Microsoft acquisition of Skype is to blame. It makes for a great story if big, bad proprietary Microsoft were to cause open source Asterisk to get the shaft. Alas, I don't think that is the case. Neither does Skype Journal. I contacted both Skype and Digium to find out more. Here's the lowdown...

First I reached out to a Skype spokesperson and this is what they told me:

Here's the official statement from Skype's Jennifer Caukin, Director of Corporate Communications:
Skype made the decision to retire Skype for Asterisk several months ago, as we have prioritized our focus around implementing the IETF SIP standard in our Skype Connect solution. SIP enjoys the broadest support of any of the available signaling alternatives by business communications equipment vendors, including Digium. By supporting SIP in favor of alternatives, we maximize our resources and continue to reinforce our commitment to delivering Skype on key platforms where we can meet the broadest customer demand.

I then asked a Skype spokesperson:
Why not just leave whatever technology is currently working that enables Skype for Asterisk functionality? Unless of course there are specialized servers on Skype’s end that must be maintained.

I’m not 100% familiar with how Asterisk communicates with the Skype cloud. I assume it’s just using the standard API, though I recall it does use a special SDK. Of course if Asterisk has to use some special APIs or hooks to communicate with Skype, then I can see why Skype would want to kill this. Asterisk is still a small fish in a big pond when you compare it to just using native SIP (Skype Connect), which can connect to hundreds of PBX models. Any other insights from a technical perspective would be appreciated.

A Skype spokesperson replied:
Between us, Skype Connect is a native SIP solution, while Skype for Asterisk is an SDK-based solution. So you are correct; it's not as simple as everyone is making it seem.You should try to get Digium to talk a little bit more on the solution development piece.

I did reach out to Digium's Steve Sokol, Asterisk Marketing Director and here's what he had to say:
Unfortunately, our contract with Skype specifically precludes us from talking about the contract with Skype.  (The first rule of fight club is that you don't talk about fight club...).

In regards to their motivations, I'm afraid I don't have any information to offer.  They simply sent us notice that the agreement would not be renewed and that we would need to cease sales by the end of the contract period.

On the technical side, I can perhaps shed a bit more light.  We (Digium) were given an SDK developed by Skype specifically for the purpose of integrating with external multi-channel (i.e. multiple concurrent call) systems -- PBXs, ACDs, etc.  The SDK included a "black box" component with an API that we used to implement an Asterisk channel driver.  As far as we know, the "black box" component connected to the Skype network as a peer, just like the desktop client.  Communication between Skype For Asterisk systems and standard Skype clients took place using their proprietary protocol.

We at Digium are quite disappointed to see the end of Skype For Asterisk.  To date it remains the most feature-rich means of integrating with the Skype network.  It supports voice calling, instant messaging and presence.  It supports inbound and outbound calling to/from any Skype user as well as access to low cost PSTN services in many markets through SkypeIn and SkypeOut.  It allows system administrators to create and manage individual Skype names for people and functions (think "Skype DIDs": tmc, tkeating.tmc, rtherai.tmc, sales.tmc, accounting.tmc, etc.).

We are happy that Skype will be providing support for Skype For Asterisk systems for at least the next two years.  Existing customers and those that purchase between now and the end-of-sales date will be able to participate as full-fledged members of the Skype network.  We expect to see strong adoption between now and July 26 as Asterisk integrators and developers make final purchases.

So there you have it. Skype for Asterisk will soon be no more. It doesn't appear Microsoft is to blame for this one. Who knows, Microsoft could enable this feature again. On a related note, I wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft offered direct Microsoft Lync communication with the Skype network. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see a universal/converged Lync & Skype client that connects to BOTH Microsoft's UC Lync platform and the Skype cloud. I suspect if Microsoft does allow connectivity to the Skype cloud they'll instead use the SIP protocol directly. Using a proprietary SDK to connect to the Skype cloud may not make much sense in the future. Though Skypes proprietary P2P network poses some challenges in adopting SIP. Still, could Microsoft's acquisition of Skype actually break down Skype's Great Wall of VoIP? That would be great news. We'll see soon enough.

See these links for additional thoughts:

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