Skype snafu leaves millions of app and desktop callers hanging

Dec 23, 2010
Tech

Skype, the low cost/no-cost Voice on the Net service used on desktop computers as well as on apps for the iPhone and Android devices, took a dive yesterday, leaving millions of calls dropped or disrupted. Today, it is gradually returning to normal. John Leyden at Theregister reported: “The snafu affected users across the US, Europe […]

Skype, the low cost/no-cost Voice on the Net service used on desktop computers as well as on apps for the iPhone and Android devices, took a dive yesterday, leaving millions of calls dropped or disrupted. Today, it is gradually returning to normal.

John Leyden at Theregister reported: “The snafu affected users across the US, Europe and Asia. Users of mobile and desktop versions of Skype were all similarly blighted.”

London-based Skype blogger Peter Parker in an update Thursday AM said the service is still coming back: “In the last hour, we’ve seen evidence of a significant increase in the number of people online. Because of the way the Skype software works, it’s not possible for anyone to obtain an exact figure, but we now estimate it to be over 10 million.”

He added that some features may not work as reliably as expected – peoples’ online status may be slow to update, and instant messages might not be delivered as quickly as they are normally.  He said group video calling will take longer to return to normal.

Parkes stressed it’s not possible to predict on an individual level when users will be able to sign in again.

Skype CEO Tony Bates told the BBC: “We take outages like this really seriously and apologize for the inconvenience users are having.  Right now it looks like clients are coming on and offline and sometimes they are crashing in the middle of calls.”

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This was a blow to millions who rely on Skype for their calls locally, domestically and especially internationally on their desktop computers or mobile devices.

So what really happened?

Parkes explained what went wrong—disrupted connections in the Skype network between “supernode” computers that act a bit like phone directories for Skype. Skype engineers were scrambling to create “mega-supernodes” to overcome the issue so people can back to their voice and video calls in this usually busy Xmas season for Skype as people call friends and family on video conference calls or even old-fangled voice calls.

Skype had worked hard to be accepted as a phone app on the iPhone from Apple (AAPL) and Android phones from Google (GOOG).

In any case, the outage is no fun for Skype users.

Igor Hnatko, who runs an outsourcing company in Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia, told BBC his firm had been “severely affected” by the outage. “It had made me realize to what extent my business is dependent on VOIP technology and Skype as a solution to keeping in touch with clients, and employees,” he said. “Usually, Skype service is of a very high standard, but today, it has been non-existent.”

I remember the first big Skype outage three years ago, which occurred while I was trying to reach my son who was in Israel. It was frustrating to say the least—especially because I didn’t want to make a mobile or landline call at prohibitive prices.

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(Disclosure: I am the former U.S. blogger for Skype.)

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