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What Is Skype
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How Skype Works

Skype setup and configuration rates among the easiest of any application you're likely to use. This is by design. Founders said they planned for Skype to be the most user-friendly application available today, and they may have hit their target.



Here's the process:

  1. Download the software. (Maybe you'll get a prize for being the 150 millionth download customer.)
  2. Install the software. It automatically configures itself for your computer and network.
  3. Register as a Skype user. (Finding a unique name will be the tough part.)
  4. Get a headset for your computer. Using external speakers and a microphone is possible but not practical.
  5. Locate another Skype user. Searching tools make this easy.
  6. Click on a Skype contact name. You can do this from a variety of places within the client application.
  7. Talk free to people anywhere in the world, or even above the world, such as Mt. Everest and jetliners with broadband links for passengers.

Be prepared for two surprises. First, although tied to a computer, Skype uses standard telephone sounds. Second, the audio quality will amaze you.

My first call was to a Skype public relations contact in London. (I'm in the Dallas area.) I used Skype on an old Pentium III 700MHz laptop over a 802.11g wireless link to a DSL line. My headset was a $20 unit. I intentionally picked low-end equipment and connections to model how some users will implement their own systems.

The call quality stunned me so much I looked around to see if my conversation partner had somehow teleported from England to Texas and was sitting beside me. I had never before heard a call so clear and full as I did on that first transcontinental call using cheap equipment and Skype.

By leveraging transmission efficiencies in digital voice and reliable broadband networks, Skype transmits the full frequency range of human hearing (20Hz to 20KHz). Compare this with the standard phone frequency of 300Hz to 3.4KHz and you can see why Skype calls sound so wonderful. The extra frequencies transmitted add richness and depth at the bottom, and all the complex overtones and harmonics at the top, to make voices sound real rather than canned. Using Skype the first time, one of your first reactions will be anger at the world of Ma Bell and how she stuck us with lousy voice quality for more than 100 years rather than leveraging technology to improve phone transmissions.

Those hurrahs aside, there are some caveats. Your computer must be turned on to use Skype, and people you call must have Skype running on their system in order to receive your call. Skype spreads by one person encouraging another to download Skype and call them, and that call usually comes within five minutes. Technically, a dial-up connection will suffice, but realistically you need broadband to really enjoy Skype.

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