Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Replacing Skype with SIP in a few easy steps

I've been a Skype user for a long time. For about 4 years, I've been loyal to Skype and had no real reason to move away from the service. It worked well, it was fairly reliable, and it was a pretty much an enjoyable experience. But recent events have forced me to take a hard look at my need for Skype and, if it could be replaced easily and, better still, with open source software.

The first event that made me take a hard look at Skype was finding out (late) that they had granted the Chinese government eavesdropping privileges on some of their users. While Skype might say this was 'following the law of the countries they operate in', I see it as an absolute violation of privacy. The second, and a bit less compelling, was my total migration to Linux and the fact that Skype just doesn't work well there at all.

So off I went looking for a solution. My requirements were pretty simple:

1. It had to be SIP compliant
2. It had to allow incoming phone to PC calls
3. It had to allow outbound PC to PC and PC to Phone calls
4. It had to be open source or from a company that respects openness
5. It had to be cheap.
6. Google Voice needed to work with it

I first looked at Gizmo5. I've always liked Gizmo and I really like what Google has done with it since they bought the company in 2009. Still, Gizmo has never really worked well for me so I wanted to avoid using their software if possible. Then I remembered Gizmo5 was a SIP service AND that Google Voice allowed me to forward inbound calls to my free Gizmo number.

So, for the first time in almost a year, I logged into my Gizmo5 account and grabbed my free SIP phone number. I then logged into Google Voice and added that number to my account and told the service to forward calls to it whenever they arrived. Easy as pie.

Since I'd been using the Ekiga SIP softphone for a while on my Linux desktop, I figured I'd stick with something I knew and went to the website and downloaded and installed the software. Next, I went into Ekiga and set up a new SIP service using the SIP information that Gizmo5 provided to me on their website. Within 3 minutes, I had my cell phone in hand, placing a test call to my Google Voice number and seeing it ring on my desktop Ekiga SIP Phone!

It was amazingly easy to replace Skype inbound calling with Ekiga and SIP but now I needed to allow outbound calling as well.  As luck would have it, both Ekiga and Gizmo5 allow outbound calling at extremely competitive rates - as cheap or cheaper than Skype. Ekiga charges around $0.02 a minute to call the USA while Gizmo5 comes in around $0.01 per minute for the same service. It ain't free, but it's pretty darn close. In the end, I'll probably go with Gizmo's calling service since it's the cheapest. Technically, I could forgo outbound calling entirely and just use Google Voice. But I like the idea of doing everything from one application and who can argue with $0.01?

Lastly, I faced my biggest hurdle in migrating from Skype: contacts. While it's really nice to think I can do all this cool stuff using the software I've chosen, the fact remains that most of my contacts are on Skype. Expecting them to all move to SIP is unreasonable so I have only two options:

1. Run a dual Skype/Ekiga desktop switching to the right client for my needs at the moment.
2. Convince my contacts to move to SIP
3. Wait for Skype to allow inbound SIP calling to Skype contacts.

I'm hopeful that option 3 is well on the way to becoming a reality since Skype is working on attracting business customers, many of whom are very reliant on SIP for their internal phone networks. Option 1 will probably be my choice for now since I'm not likely to convince many people to jump through the hurdles I did tonight. Still, it's a nice thought and I am nearly completely free of proprietary Skype.

As you can see, setting this up really wasn't hard at all. All you need are a few pieces from different places and you can easily move almost totally away from Skype.

Ah, the smell of freedom.


davekoelmeyer said...

Great post. I'm also one of the users out there trying to move as far as I can from a dependence on Skype.

Larry Dickson said...

I dont think that its very good idea, in my humble opinion Skype is just irreplaceable app! And I surely wanna advise for everyone to use skype latest version https://yepdownload.com/skype that may make you very happy and carefree!