- Free calls to other Skype users.
- Skype Number and Skype Subscriptions vary depending on your location.
- Skype for Business is being phased out and replaced with an Office 365 account; pricing starts at $5/month per user up to $12.50/month per user.
Table of Contents
- What is Skype?
- Getting Started With Skype
- What I Like About Skype
- Skype Weaknesses
- Is Skype Right for You?
When you think of video calling, Skype most likely comes to mind—even if you've never used it. And it's no wonder, since Skype paved the way for all other web conferencing software, before becoming one of the world's most popular communication tools.
When Skype launched in 2003, it changed the way people communicate by providing a single platform with free voice calling, face-to-face video, and instant messaging. The software made it easier than ever before to call anyone, anywhere in the world, over the internet, and avoid expensive phone bills.
When you're communicating with your team members or clients, you need reliable software that is easy-to-use and falls within your budget. Skype fits the bill for me and has been a staple for both personal and business communication.
What is Skype?
Skype is an easy-to-use VoIP (voice over internet protocol) service that enables users to make HD video and audio calls through a range of devices (mobile, tablet, PC, Alexa, and Xbox). Users can contact other Skype accounts for free or call local and international numbers (landlines/mobiles) at extremely low rates.
Skype comes with an excellent communication features including group conferencing, instant messaging, file sharing, and screen sharing. While most of the software is free, Skype also has an affordable Business plan ($5/month per user for Office 365 account) that allows you to hold conferences (audio or video) with up to 250 people and includes access to MS Office apps.
Since Microsoft acquired the company in 2011, the software has gone through several controversial redesigns and feature changes. Although, with approximately 300 million registered users, Skype is still a popular platform and an industry leader.
Getting Started With Skype
Skype is extremely easy to set up. Below, I'll go through the initial steps on how to download the app, create an account, and start making calls. For reference, I'm using Skype for Mac, so depending on your device, the software may look slightly different. Either way, the setup is fairly straightforward and the steps will be pretty similar.
Skype has an extensive suite of apps and extensions that you can use across many different devices or platforms. The software can be installed on your desktop computer (Windows, Mac OS X or Linux), mobile phone (Android, iOS), tablet (iPad, Android, Windows, Kindle), Xbox or Alexa device. You can also use Skype for Web in your browser (supports Chrome or Microsoft Edge) without downloading any of the apps, although you will need to make sure you are using the latest version. I recommend downloading the desktop app to ensure you can utilize all available features. This is the most common way that people use Skype.
Create an account
People who have existing Hotmail or Outlook email addresses can simply login to skype using these details. However, if you don't have such an email account, you'll be able to create a Skype account using any email address or phone number.
Build your profile and adjust settings
After you've created an account and signed in, you can start building your profile and adding contacts. Skype allows you to add a picture, set your desired language, and adjust the appearance. There are also other call and messaging settings you might want to change, depending on your preferences. For example, you can add read receipts to know when a recipient views your message, and set up caller ID to show your number when making outbound calls to mobiles or landlines.
Skype will also prompt you to test out your microphone, camera, and speakers. This only takes a minute and needs to be done once during setup, although it's an important step to take if you plan on making video or audio calls.
Find and add contacts
Skype has a massive user base, making it easy to connect and start conversations. Clicking on the 'Contacts' button, you can search for existing contacts by entering their Skype name. If you don't know their Skype username, you can also search for people by their real name, email address, or phone number. Skype will also show the number of shared mutual contacts to ensure you are contacting the right person. One helpful tip: if you're searching for someone with a common name, you can also search for their name and location, for example, "Sarah Smith in London".
Contacts will need to accept your invitation before you can start communicating with them.
Start a conversation
Once you've added a few contacts, you can start communicating with them through audio or video calls, as well as instant messaging. Clicking on a contact will bring up past conversation history. You can start a video or voice call by selecting the corresponding button on the top right of the screen. To answer a Skype call, contacts will need to be signed in and online. As mentioned earlier, you will also need to ensure that you have enabled your camera and microphone. You can test this and see if it's working by calling the Echo/Sound Test Service and following the prompts.
What I Like About Skype
Skype is simple and effective. While the UI and feature-set have experienced many changes over the years under Microsoft, the software is still a powerful communication tool for freelancers and small businesses. Below, I'll go through what I like about using Skype.
Free HD audio and video calling
Skype offers free HD audio and video conferencing. What's not to love? As soon as you download the app, you can start calling other Skype users for free with no time restriction. This is by far one of the biggest benefits of using the software, as I've been able to communicate with international clients for hours on end without spending a cent. As most people are familiar with the software and already utilize Skype in some form or another (either for personal or business use), it's a quick and easy solution.
The basic version of Skype also comes with instant messaging, file transfers, a translation feature, and screen sharing. You can also schedule a call date/time and set reminder notifications for your mobile or desktop.
Inexpensive landline and mobile calling options
While most of my clients use Skype, there are some that don't or prefer to talk using a landline or mobile number for various reasons. While this isn't too much of a concern for local clients, it can get expensive when making long calls with international clients.
Luckily, I can use the software to make outbound calls to landlines and mobile phones. Skype has a few different paid options that provide significantly cheaper call rates than using a regular phone company. For example, I can purchase a Skype Subscription and call any mobile or landline around the world for only $15.39/month. There's also an option to add a phone number into caller ID section, so any outgoing calls look like they are coming from my mobile or landline instead. If you make international calls on a regular basis, a Skype Subscription provides excellent value.
However, if you only need to make landline or mobile calls from time-to-time (like I do), you can purchase Skype Credit. The rates vary depending on the country you are contacting, although calling another U.S-based number costs approximately 2.5 cents per minute with a 5.4 cent connection fee. You can also purchase subscriptions with pre-set minutes in other countries (e.g. 100 minutes to UK-based mobiles and landlines cost $3.29/month).
Lastly, if you want to receive inbound calls from clients that aren't on Skype, you will need to purchase a Skype Number. This is essentially a phone number that you pay for on a monthly basis. Anyone can call this number using their own landline or mobile, and you can answer on Skype using any device with the app. The best part about this is you can choose any location for your number and take advantage of substantially cheaper call rates. For example, I have a London phone number that I use to talk with UK-based clients. I can also purchase a U.S-based number, or Australian number if needed too.
Do you need to speak with international clients in another language? One of the more impressive features of the platform is Skype Translator, which offers real-time chat translation and text messaging. There are currently 10 languages supported for voice including English, Spanish, German, France, and Chinese (Mandarin), in addition to 50 languages for instant messaging.
To use the translator, you simply need to set your desired language (e.g. English to Spanish) and start your conversation with the other party. Skype will automatically translate what you are saying and play it back in the selected language along with supporting text. To ensure the software picks everything up, you will need to use headphones and speak clearly, and slowly.
While the feature can be helpful for simple calls, you probably won't be able to have a free-flowing conversation. The software is still a little buggy, but the potential is there. I've found that the instant messaging translator is more reliable than the voice translator.
Instant messaging & group chat
Skype comes with some excellent tools to help you collaborate with individuals or teams. For example, you can send instant messages to other contacts, which get delivered straight to their Skype account. You can also share files, record video messages, and send emoticons or gifs for a more light-hearted conversation.
One feature that I commonly use is the group chat. This comes in handy when I need to send a quick message to multiple contacts or team members, as it provides us with a central place for communication. I can also make a group call directly from the chat room and search through old messages. However, one thing to keep in mind is that all messages and files are only stored on Skype servers for up to 30 days, so you will need to adjust your settings to auto-download files to your device for safe keeping, which is something I found out the hard way. While Skype won't replace my project management software anytime soon, it can be useful for quick conversations on the fly.
Skype is a cost-effective solution, although, like any software, it does have some negatives. Below, I'll go through some of Skype's weaknesses.
Call quality can vary
This is probably more of a concern with VoIP in general than Skype, but your call quality is solely dependent on your internet connection. Skype only works over the internet, so if you have a slow or intermittent connection speed, you may experience dropouts or other issues when making a call. This may not be a concern when talking with friends or family, but if you're using Skype as your business's primary communication tool, missing a meeting due to connection issues is generally not acceptable.
However, the good news is that Skype doesn't require much bandwidth. You can make an audio call with a minimum download/upload speed of 30kbps. Video calls and screen sharing require more bandwidth, with a minimum download/upload speed of 128kbps . In comparison, UberConference only needs 100kbps as a minimum. Having said that, you never know when the internet is going to go down, so I would always recommend having a backup in place, such as a mobile plan with 4G data to use the Skype app.
Potential security and privacy concerns
Security is a big concern these days, especially when you're sharing confidential business information. Due to the popularity of the service, Skype has drawn the attention of hackers who are always looking to steal personal information and passwords.
Microsoft offers end-to-end encryption and continuously releases new updates, although there is still the possibility that your Skype account can be hacked if proper security measures aren't followed. For example, your profile can contain a lot of personal information that contacts and the public can view such as your name, location, pictures, birthday, and phone number, if you choose to add this information. Make sure you only add contacts you know, have a strong password in place and always update to the latest version of Skype.
Is Skype Right for you?
If you're looking for a simple tool to conduct one-to-one audio or video meetings with clients or customers, then Skype is perfect for your needs. It's incredibly easy to use, offers reliable video and audio quality, and is free when calling other Skype users. You can also make calls wherever you are from virtually any device (mobile, tablet, desktop).
However, the free version was mostly designed for individual users, so there can be concerns when using it as a primary communication tool in your business. For example, if you want to run large meetings (>25 people), you will need to upgrade to an Office 365 account to access conferencing for up to 250 participants.
Where Skype really shines is in providing a cost-effective avenue for international communication. Using Skype Credit, I can call any mobile or landline around the world at extremely low rates (much lower than the regular phone network). While I only make occasional calls, there is also the option to pay a flat-fee for unlimited calling. While Apple fans, like myself, could use FaceTime, I actually prefer Skype as the connection is often better and I can contact anyone, regardless of whether they're an Android, Apple or Windows user.
Whether you're using the software to call friends and family, collaborate with team members, or talk with a client, Skype is still one of my favorite tools on the market.