In 2004, one of my colleagues tried to get me to use Skype. I wasn’t impressed, especially as I was working on a client site and the proxy server kept on blocking connections to strange educational sites all over the world.
I’ve since learnt that was because of the peer-to-peer networking nature of Skype with it’s system of supernodes but, even so, for the last few years, I’ve managed to avoid it, favouring traditional voice communications and more recently, SIP-based VoIP. Then, as I blogged previously, James Bannan and I decided that we would like to put a podcast together and, as he’s in Australia and I’m in the UK, Skype looks like the most sensible communications option. I listen to a lot of podcasts where the presenters are geographically dispersed and apart from the odd glitch when someone is clearly on a weak connection or running some CPU-intensive software, everything seems fine.
So, one night last month, we gave it a go (we’ll only need audio but we tried the full video capabilities) and I was actually quite impressed. I was at home, using Skype 18.104.22.1680 for Mac OS X with the built-in iSight webcam in my MacBook and James was using a recent version of Skype on a Windows PC in his office.
Don’t be put off by the pixellated picture… that was just because it wasn’t exactly the best picture of James (stills from video calls rarely are) but, apart from the deliberately mosaiced face, you can see that the video quality is not bad at all.
Given that I have a consumer broadband connection and that James was on the other side of the world (although I don’t know what sort of network connection he had), things were pretty good.
If you check out the technical call information screenshot you can see that the round trip (of at least 21,000 miles, through 4 relays was taking an average of 374ms (just about the limit before delay becomes noticeable but not exactly causing a problem) and there was negligible jitter and barely any packet loss, although the SVOPC codec is designed to tolerate packet loss (I found a forum post on a German site which describes the various metrics used by Skype). Most notably for me, both CPU cores on my 2.2GHz Intel Core2Duo were being hammered as Skype encoded/decoded the video conversation but we were still managing a respectable 15 frames per second.
So, in all the whole experience was a good one. Of course, like any VoIP connection across the Internet, experiences will vary according to the traffic conditions at the time but I was suitably impressed.