I recently had been thinking and investigating if there was any possibility to use Skype as a payphone service. My reasoning was that it could be superbely used for a call shop. I have seen call shops popping up like mushrooms in Italy and Germany, and they provide great value to people who do not have the possibility to subscribe to a landline (and seemingly great cash flow to the owners..) I didn't find anything, but it seems that somebody is giving it a serious try: Phillip Torrone from O'Reilly has launched the Skype Payphone Project. Brilliant!
I believe this could also be a new revenue opportunity for Skype itself. I haven't been blogging about Skype, because James, and Stuart with his Skype Journal and many others are doing a far better job at it. But apart from Torrone's blog, I haven't found anything else, so here is my call. I wasn't able to find any statistics on the number of call shops and their growth rates in Europe or anywhere else in the world, but my own experience provides anectodal evidence that this is a growing business: I constantly see opening up new ones with people waiting in lines for a cabin.
Most of these shops still ride the PSTN network, and VoIP-based shops are still the exception. What Skype would need to do is to create an application that bills the calls executed with Skype, permitting to define billing increments and assign value in a currency to them. A call shop owner could then re-sell Skype calls. Skype would then profit if calls are being terminated in the PSTN network, as SkypeOut would be required. Skype's Developer Zone and Skype's API provide the platform for third parties to develop such an application. Skype Journal has published an excellent whitepaper to understand Skype's API and plug-in architecture better.
The value-add for the call shop owner is that Skype termination prices are potentially lower than legacy PSTN termination - so gross margin would grow with prices being kept constant. It would also allow the call shop operator to get rid of his legacy PBX, PSTN or leased lines with its monthly charges - just take one large broadband pipe. One Skype call probably requires some 32 kbit/s to obtain a good call quality. Factoring in oversubscription factors, which can range from 20 to 50, a 4 Mbit/s broadband line with an oversubcription factor of 20 should then be sufficient to handle 6 parallel Skype calls. Maybe somebody else can provide thoughts on this.
ADDENDUM on May 4th: on Skype's technical FAQ site it says that Skype actually "automatically selects the best codec depending on the connection between yourself and the person you are calling. On average, Skype uses between 3-16 kilobytes/sec depending on bandwidth available for other party, network conditions in between, callers CPU performance, etc."
While simply throwing bandwidth at your broadband pipe does not resolve any QoS issues in general, I would still use a higher rate than necessary to guarantee sufficient bandwidth, since you never know how congested the networks can be.