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The Merge of Skype & Lync Boosts Unified Communications

An Engineers’ perspective

Microsoft demonstrated a Skype-Lync video call at Lync conference in 2014, this was a significant milestone and a clear signal of intent.

When Microsoft purchased Skype in May 2011 it wasn’t made entirely clear how Lync and Skype would fit together in the same space. Soon instant messaging and federation voice calls were enabled. Now with the soon to be released, addition of video calls between the two systems, the commitment Microsoft made to both systems has been backed by its actions.

Some features may at first appear conspicuous by their absence, for example conferencing. However, this is in line with the Microsoft view that mobile Lync users will use the feature to keep in touch with friends and family while they are on the road. As with IM and presence, the Skype user must sign into Skype with their Microsoft Live account to be able to initiate a video call to a federated Lync user.

Lots of things have changed in Skype and Lync since the acquisition, with both products benefiting from the experience gained from different development teams. Skype did use a selection of standards relating to routing and security but now the standards are more rigorously enforced when a Skype to Lync call is initiated. TLS, sRTP and STUN, TURN and ICE have been in use by Lync since it was OCS; security and enterprise security officers now sleep better knowing that their users are compliant to these standards.

Skype was an innovator in its field largely due to its expertise in codec development keeping it ahead of the competition. Its SILK codec has been with us since early 2009 and more recently introduced into the Lync client. This wideband codec whos quality apparently leads to longer conversations has other desirable characteristics. These include forward error correction, developed to compensate for the lack of QoS on the Internet. The integration of such capabilities into the Lync client can only have a positive impact on the user experience. Along with SILK the scalable video coding codec H.264 has been introduced. An ideal protocol for two main reasons; it’s ideal when traversing the wilds of the Internet and can deliver reasonable video quality when packet loss is as high as 50%.

It is a relatively straight forward process to enable Skype federation on both on-premise and Office365 Lync deployments. Once done it’s a simple process for users to add contacts and start communicating. This streamlined process helps user adoption and promotes communication with businesses and individuals.

It has taken two years to reach the point when Skype and Lync are integrating core functionalities and taking advantage of each other’s more desirable features. There have been as many strategic decisions as technical challenges along the way. But we reach this point knowing there will be further development and integration in the future. It is entirely possible that we will see other Lync technologies featuring in the Skype product set in some way in the not too distant future.

Categorised Under: Unified Communications

29th May 2014