Skype is offering up its high quality audio codec, SILK (as in "as smooth as") for other companies to use.  What is Silk (PDF link)?

SILK is Skype’s signature super wideband audio codec which achieves super wideband audio quality using 50% less network bandwidth than previously required. It is the outcome of a three year long development process in the Skype labs, which focused on four things:

  1. improving audio bandwidth going from 8 kHz to 12 kHz…
  2. providing real-time bandwidth scalability to deal with degraded network conditions
  3. balancing codec optimization between voice, music and background noise…
  4. delivering a robust solution that delivers a more consistent audio experience.

There are two directions where this could affect Apple.  First, applications like Apple’s own iChat and other voice over IP applications on the Mac could adopt this technology to improve quality and reliability of voice communications, even over bad connections.  Second, Apple could adopt hardware that can optimize the processing for this codec in their products, namely the iPhone and its mobile products.

The VoIP industry is in a unique position right now.  With Skype owning most of the marketshare (400 million users!), Skype is in a position to dictate how things go.  At the same time, Skype could eventually be a victim of its own success.  Skype makes its money from calling and recieving calls from voice lines.  If every cell phone and home device has Skype on it, no one will pay to call or get calls from land lines.  Obviously they could change their business plan at that point and do something like throw a little annoying advertising into your calls.

As far as SILK goes, all sides of of the conversation need to to have the technology enabled for it to work.  Currently only PC users with version 4.0 of Skype can take advantage of it but word on the street is that Mac users will be able to have a mainstream SILK-enabled version of Skype in April.  (beta is currently available here

We like the sound of all of this:P

About the Author