Skype’s new state of the art speech codec SILK will be made available to third party licensees for free, the company is announcing later today. Skype GM Jonathan Christensen will be speaking about the new program at the eComm event in San Francisco later today.
SILK has been highly regarded by the guys that follow this sort of thing and is included in the most recent version of Skype for Windows (the Mac version with SILK will be coming in April). If both sides of the call have a version of Skype that includes the new codec, the call quality increases dramatically.
Skype is now making the codec available for third party use on a royalty free basis. There are a number of speech codecs available on the market today, including iSac and AMRWideband, and an open source codec called Speex. Skype claims that SILK outperforms all of these.
So why give it away to competitors? Christensen says its about setting standards in the industry so that VoIP services can spread more quickly, particularly to hardware devices that today are not optimized for voice over the Internet.
It’s also a sign that Skype, with 400 million or so worldwide registered users, isn’t particularly concerned about the competition any more. They’re handing over a key piece of intellectual property to competitors that can reduce their costs and possibly improve voice quality. They wouldn’t do that unless they felt their pole position was fairly permanent for now.
More importantly, it signals that Skype may be preparing to open up their service in the future. Skype has long been derided for being a closed service (by people like me, who continue, however, to use it daily). Their API allows developers to access limited features of the service, but a call requires the opening of the Skype client. If Skype were to open its core calling functions as a service, the number of applications that would build it in would explode. Skype would benefit from a surge in paid calls to traditional and mobile phones (Skype Out). Our guess is that the debate to open these core functions through the API is still raging within Skype, but that the proponents of openness are slowly starting to turn the tide.