Skype Journal Test

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Michael Robertson responds

[A letter by Michael Robertson.]

Phil,

Thanks for the post on Skype Journal about my letter to Skype pointing out the hypocrisy of demanding that the wireless carriers open up their network when Skype will not open their network to receive calls from others. You don't address the core issue about Skype interconnecting with other networks and seem to make excuses about why it's not possible or safe. These protests had no validity 5 years ago when peering was an issue with the major IM networks. Back then AIM and Yahoo used identical excuses about why they could not interconnect which MSN and Google. Now those entities cross connect with each other in several instances.

Gizmo5 uses and fully supports an open standard called SIP which lets callers from different networks connect to each other similar to how emails from different servers are connected to each other. This is how the Gizmo5 network connects with over 250 big and small networks. You might also be surprised to learn that Skype supports SIP already! Skype uses SIP to hand-off calls to the PSTN (the original phone network). Anytime you are using Skype-In or Skype-Out your calls are going from/to your computer using both the SIP and Skype systems. In spite of your questions and concerns below, this unquestionably proves it is not only technically feasible, but secure and practical.

When it is in Skype's best business interest they support SIP. Other times they want to lock out all competing VOIP companies which is why they don't publish a public SIP interface which is what I'm calling for. (You probably know that several companies like Fring and Nimbuzz have reverse engineered the ability to send and receive Skype calls but it is susceptible to breaking or being blocked by Skype.) This is exactly the situation with the FCC letter. Skype wants others to open their networks but Skype won't open theirs. Either you believe companies should be able to choose or you believe everyone should be open. Either argument has validity but toggling between the two positions to fit business justification should be pointed out.

You state in your public defense of Skype's closed system: "How we connect a phone to a mobile network is standardized. How we connect a client to the Skype network is not. How we connect the Skype network to another service is not." I would contend this is inaccurate. There is a standard way that Skype client's connect to a network - they have just chosen not to publish this and their reluctance you believe gives them the right to lock everyone out. (The wireless carriers could of course make the same argument rebuffing Skype.) However to send and receive calls, it is not necessary for Skype to reveal how its entire network work. Rather they are only required to offer a SIP interface which as I mentioned Skype already has it is just not made available to others.

You proposed several questions so let me address them below.

1.  Will you peer IM, video, file transfer, presence, commerce, desktop sharing, conferencing, texting, microblogging, and data channels? Crossing all conversational modes? Exactly whose codecs and protocols should everyone use? Should Skype users downgrade the quality of their voice and video calls to match Gizmo's?

Yes, Gizmo5 will and does peer all conversation types. We use XMPP for text messaging and presence and SIP protocols for voice. We strive to adhere to the standards to insure interoperability with all. Where there are standards we use them and publish them. If we build something that is not to standard we are open to publishing the specifications.

This is "Skype Journal" so I don't expect objective treatment about voice quality but the facts are Skype and Gizmo5 calls will have similar voice quality because both products use the GIPS media engine. This means the code is identical all the core aspects that impact call quality such as jitter protection, echo cancellation, noise protection, etc. See:  http://www.gipscorp.com/default/customers.html

On the video front, Skype does have higher quality video because they implemented On2's proprietary solution called vp7. Gizmo5 chose the open standard called h.264 so that we could interoperate with others doing video calls. In fact, you will see mobile to PC video in the near future suing Gizmo5 because of this technology choice. Gizmo5 would be happy to license On2's technology if that is what is required to interoperate with Skype. Gizmo5 already supports multiple audio/video codecs so adding another one is trivial.

2. Will you require realtime encryption? Strong enough to prevent live intercepts? Will you require all networks to notify users when their conversations are no longer encrypted?

Skype and Gizmo5 have similar approaches. Skype to Skype calls are encrypted as are Gizmo5 to Gizmo5. Anytime someone calls the PSTN (whether on Skype or Gizmo5) those calls are never encrypted. Encryption should be a user choice where appropriate. No, we don't require realtime encryption.  We don't tell others how to run their networks. If others don't run their networks responsibly then users will abandon them.

3. Will you agree to strong user authentication? So users can have confidence in the identity of friends and strangers?

Not sure how this is relevant to peering with Skype. Remember - that's what we're talking about. Users of other VOIP networks being able to call Skype users and receive calls from them. We don't support this, but the fact of the matter is that if it's important to consumers then a network will support it and users can migrate to that service. As it is, users are locked into Skype and have no choice to choose another service if they want to call anyone in the Skype network.

4. Will you (and everyone you peer with) agree on user profile data structures, white page directory services, and directory search interop?

We can't make everyone who peers with us agree to do this. We do publish an API for our system so others can interoperate. I think this would be ideal. I'd love to have it for email addresses and IM addresses and social network profiles, but sadly we do not. It sounds like you're making my case about why open standards are important.

5. Will you support data portability principles? So users can switch to and from you network with their identities, profiles, buddy lists, histories, and preferences?

I started MP3.com 10 years ago on the premise that open standards are the way to go. They are with music (MP3) and they are with email, IM and VOIP as well. Data portability is also important and I spend my money building companies which adhere to these tenets. Again, not sure what this has to do with peering since Skype supports none of the items you have listed. I encourage you to check out another company I run called MP3tunes which stores your personal music collection in the cloud. Go sign up for a free account. You will see that we let you sync your entire music collection everywhere - no lock in.

6. Will you peer customer support costs and security? How should customers escalate security and technical issues across multiple networks?

Gizmo5 already sends and receives calls from over 250 VOIP networks. And we work through security and technical issues across networks as they arise. This is not a hard thing to do. There's no reason VOIP can't be a universally open system like email. These are just straw man arguments about why it's hard or not possible. These wobbly arguments work when you're testifying in front of congressman who don't know a damn thing about technology, but they don't hold water to technologists. And the point of using standards is that if people adhere to the specifications everything works fine together right out of the box. Of the more than 250 networks we regularly exchange calls with we have had issues with less than 15 in 5 years and they have always been quickly addressed because it's in both peoples interest to make sure things work.

7. Will you mandate end-to-end transparency of call quality information?

I don't even know what this is. But no, we don't mandate how others operate their network.

8. What namespaces would you suggest Skype use? Will you support OpenID or some other namespace?

The SIP standard supports namespace issues. It is similar to email. username@skype will work just fine. Again, this is how we interoperate with hundreds of networks now. It's a non-issue.

9. Will you open Gizmo up to all partners? Your contact page says "Unfortunately, we are not setup to partner at this time with organizations with fewer than one million users."

Nice misquote. Let me include the entire paragraph in context so your readers will get the full picture. From: http://gizmo5.com/pc/about-us/contact/

Potential Partners

Companies and organizations looking to partner with Gizmo5 should visit our parent company site, SIPphone.com. Partners looking to brand the Gizmo5 client and service typically have user bases well in excess of 1 million users. If you are a smaller company or individual looking to start your own VoIP service, please visit our developers area, where you can learn how to start your very own VoIP service. Unfortunately, we are not setup to partner at this time with organizations with fewer than one million users.

As you can see the 1 million reference is related to people who want a branded version of the Gizmo5 client to distribute. Anyone with a VOIP network can setup a SIP service (or Asterisk) and dial our users or receive calls from our network. If Skype Journal has a million users we will provide you with your own branded VOIP client to distribute.

10. How will you make all this work? What industry body or standards process could help Skype and other companies find the sweet spots of commoditized conversation?

Some years back some smart guys got together to address this very problem.  They did so in a public manner using the same process that brought us standards for the web and email which is why the web and email work universally. They called the standard they defined SIP and it deals precisely in how calls are initiated, negotiated and connected. It's what Gizmo5 uses and promotes as the solution to allow calls to flow freely between networks instead of having a big number of disparate networks. You can read all about it here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Session_Initiation_Protocol

Skype should support a public SIP interface so standards based networks like Gizmo5 and others can seamlessly send and receive calls.

-- MR

Michael Robertson

www.MP3tunes.com - Your Music Everywhere
www.Gizmo5.com - IM/VOIP/SMS from PC and phone

 

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5 Comments:

At September 19, 2008 at 3:49 AM , Anonymous aaytch said...

Wow, Robertson sure is mad!! He is not lecturing Skype for the mere purpose of demonstrating his intellectual superiority. There is something he is not telling us.

Why would the CEO of a Skype competitor be going public with such a rant? If he thought he could convince Skype, he would have contacted them privately. His argument doesn't have import in the legal sphere, so he can't be thinking about a lawsuit. He doesn't say that puncturing the Skype cloud is in Skype's economic interest... he knows it's not true.

What Robertson is saying is that this is good for GIZMO and the rest of the VOIP community, plain and simple. Bravo for his honesty, and his humility. No, this is a move of desperation. Robertson is literally begging. So something is afoot.

 
At September 19, 2008 at 7:21 AM , Anonymous J.A. Watson said...

Maybe Robertson is just sick of seeing Skype prance around talking out both sides of their mouth - "We demand open access to wireless networks" / "Oh NO, we can't give open access to OUR network".

What is missing from YOUR statement is whether "puncturing the Skype cloud" would be good for users, either of Skype or any other VoIP program. We don't give a hoot whether is is good or bad for Skype, Gizmo or any of the others.

 
At September 21, 2008 at 10:54 AM , Anonymous mgraves said...

At present the only way to call a Skype user from outside the Skype realm is via a PSTN number. SkypeIN and Skype out are the primary revenue streams for the company are they not? Then, all technical arguments aside, peering with other SIP networks could damage their revenues. Their motivation seems simple enough.

Gizmo5 faces the same issue but their mantra has always been about "open" and "standards based."

 
At September 21, 2008 at 11:55 AM , Anonymous Jason SJOBECK said...

Robertson, as usual, is dead on here.

Skype is closed. Period. Fact.

SIP is open. Fact. Simple.

Open is best. End of story.

Come on, Skype, join the rest of the planet.

Thanks all.

 
At September 22, 2008 at 3:07 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ya, Skype should join rest of the planet or vice versa.

 

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