Request For Invention: Ultimate Skype Conference Phone

Attention IPEVO: Go ahead and bill me for one of these Skype conference phones as soon as you meet this feature set.

  • Clear voice quality with good range and crosstalk reduction. (Duh.) At least as good as that popular Polycom model everyone uses.
  • Color LCD and interface like the SOLO, but with a few conferencing features. (Actually, go ahead and add those conferencing features to the solo as well. It needs some! If Skype doesn’t allow for this, I’ll pay a minimal monthly fee for a 3rd party integration.)
  • Bluetooth pairable with OS X, with a tolerable amount of latency when used wirelessly. No special drivers must be used for this.
  • Ethernet port (and LAN pass-through) just like the SOLO for computer-free operation.
  • USB port for wired laptop operation. Special drivers are OK here, but I don’t want to have to run some special app in the forground to use basic features.
  • Optional: Power-over-ethernet operation. Add $20 for this feature.
  • Optional: Clustered operation. Add $20 for this feature.
  • Optional: Network discovery and AirTunes support. Add $20 for this feature.
  • Optional: Gigabit ethernet with four extra switch ports. Add $40 for this feature.

You may charge me up to $250 for one unit (plus extras), which includes all cables neatly packagable in a box that can be used for transport. Thanks!

Skype Phone Reviews: IPEVO SOLO, FREE.2

solo_3.jpgWe‘ve recently started using Skype hardware by little-known vendor IPEVO. SOLO models for the desktop (pictured) and FREE.2 USB handsets for the road. The SOLO plugs straight into your ethernet network, and also functions as a tiny ethernet switch, providing a port for your computer if you only have one RJ-45 jack at your desk. It took me less than 5 minutes to get running with no “Quick Start Guide” crap or drivers required. Since I already had a fully juiced Skype account, the SOLO logged in flawlessly with no hassle. Happiness ensued.

The full-color screen is easy to read and the angle can be adjusted. Unlike more “enterprisey” phones, there is no excess buttonage, and the unit in general is very easy to figure out and use. Despite a couple minor nitpicky items (could be easier to access voicemail, not enough speed-dial stuff, needs conferencing built in), the SOLO is a solid practical phone at less than $200 (USD) per seat.

I’m less fond of the FREE.2. I suppose it works well for what it is, but I don’t like having to think about starting special software to take advantage of all the features. Everything should Just Work without having to worry about additional moving parts. (Oh, and everything should integrate flawlessly with Address Book too.) The hardware itself seems to work well enough, but until the software side is more streamlined and polished I’ll likely stick to headphones and the MacBook Pros built-in microphone.

IPEVO also offers a dedicated conference unit named XING which we may pick up in the future, but have not played with so far.

Small Office VoIP: Skype Pros/Cons

skype_logo.pngBefore the 2007 tax year ended, OpenRain decided to finally solidify a telephony strategy for the next year or so. Key requirements were..

  • Easy ad-hoc and scheduled conferences.
  • Mobile flexibility and continuity across physical locations.
  • Scalability for the next couple years.
  • Voice mail
  • Call forwarding.
  • Little to no management overhead. (I don’t want to run a dedicated PBX.)
  • Usable hardware.
  • Practical prices for worldwide incoming/outgoing calls.
  • Less than ~$2K initial investment.

It came down to one of two primary directions..

  1. Hosted VoIP (such as with Vonage or Qwest) with SIP phones such as from Cisco or Avaya.
  2. Skype with 3rd-party hardware and Mac soft-phone.

After some debate, we chose to use Skype exclusively for services, and have been fairly satisfied. I have a few beefs, but at less than $100 per year per person, I can’t complain too much.

Skype Pros:

  • Instant gratification. Easy to set yourself up for calls to/from landlines.
  • Good soft-client with videoconferencing support; Address Book.app integration is present in the latest Mac beta client.
  • Inexpensive. Less than $100 per seat per year for SkypePro and SkypeIn (an incoming number).
  • Awesome value when bundled with an IPEVO SOLO.
  • Extremely simple web interface for distributing company credits.
  • Concurrent logins from multiple locations. I leave my SOLO on 24/7 and use the soft-client on the road.
  • Great quality on Skype-to-Skype calls. Good quality to landlines.

Skype Cons:

  • My biggest gripe: In the U.S., outgoing calls do NOT show your SkypeIn number on the recipients phone.
  • Vendor lock-in, since Skype uses a proprietary protocol. Since cost of entry for services is so low, however, it may not be a huge deal if your want to switch to a SIP-based provider.
  • The WiFi-Phones all suck. The IPEVO SOLO is the only desktop model I like.
  • Possible future screwage of SkypeIn numbers if they ever change.
  • No 911, which is a general issue with VoIP services.