FORD: Skype Me, Asterisk Us


by Carl Ford

Mark Spencer had been working on projects delivering drivers and writing code that was specific to boards.  Being part of the open source experience, he saw that his work could be built into something bigger that would allow the extraction of call control into an open source project that could be used for anything.

When you ask people about Asterisk, the label of "PBX" is placed on it. But that is not accurate, since it's an open source system that has call control ability. Most developers I know use the Asterisk system as a PBX in their homes as a hobby and use it as an application platform at work for their carrier employers. While at Astricon, I met people who use the system as an IP-PBX, and others who use it specifically for its ability to enhance call centers.

With Skype, like Asterisk, the starting premise is not about connecting to the PSTN, but creating something new. Using the same peer-to-peer model that is in Kazaa, Skype proceeded to deliver a new model of call control that was self organizing and used Instant Messaging as the signaling method to communicate.

This brings us to Skype's main impact. The soft client can be used to connect to people on social networks, blogs and web sites. Regardless of your connection to Skype, you can connect to people on Skype.  Some people say it is like having an 800 number for the Internet.

Now the same functionality will be available to connect through to call centers using Asterisk. Since Asterisk is capable of being more than just a PBX, it can be used as an Automatic Call Distributor or just as a gateway to support the "trunk/lines" coming in from Skype.

Want to have global reach?  Skype with Asterisk allows a lot of new incoming calls -- calls that may require call center staff to develop new talents.  I have a friend who teaches for American Accent who has taught me how to better understand people when they speak English with accents, which may become standard training as Skype with Asterisk is deployed in call centers.

Best of all, from my perspective, is the lack of the PSTN in this model.  At a time when regulators are trying to see everything VoIP as a taxable item, I would like to think that the public good is seen in the ability to drive worldwide commerce to a business near you.

Carl Ford is Strategic Adviser and Community Developer for FierceMarkets. His words of wisdom can be found at