While Skype’s 560 million+ member number is quite impressive, its 8.1 million paying subscribers puts that total number in perspective. Those 8.1 million provide Skype $96 in ARPU per year. To put that in perspective, Verizon’s latest monthly ARPU for its consumer markets is $80.76, which equates to 10X what Skype gets on average per customer per year.

To address this revenue picture, Skype is spreading its wings, and formally launched Skype Connect 1.0, an IP voice product which targets small and medium businesses. Skype is looking to the SMB market to grow its revenue – significantly so. After all, there’s a Skype IPO on the horizon, meaning Skype may soon have shareholders to answer to regarding its revenue growth picture.

Skype Connect is Skype’s version of SIP trunking for businesses. The service will connect to existing IP enabled key systems and PBX’s, or unified communications (UC) systems as they are now called. By enabling Skype Connect, businesses can use Skype’s network as their underlying voice carrier. Skype Connect will allow business customers to:

  • Make outbound calls from desktop phones to landlines and mobiles worldwide billed at Skype’s standard per-minute calling rates;
  • Receive inbound calls from Skype connected users worldwide by placing Skype’s Click & Call buttons on their Web sites;
  • Receive calls from landlines or mobile phones in the corporate PBX using Skype’s online numbers that have been purchased separately; and
  • Manage Skype calls using your existing PBX or UC systems’ features such as call routing, automatic call distribution, conferencing, auto-attendant, voicemail, call recording and logging.

Incoming calls across Skype Connect are free, while outgoing calls will be billed at Skype’s standard rate of 2.1 cents per minute. Skype Connect also charges a monthly fee of $6.95 per Skype Connect line.

Skype already claims 2,400 customer for the service, who came through the product’s previous name Skype for SIP. Skype says Skype Connect is certified to work with Avaya, Cisco, SIPfoundry, and ShoreTel UC systems. IP Gateways from AudioCodes, Grandstream and VoSKY can also enable Skype Connect on legacy TDM PBXs. Skype Connect is one of many reasons why Cisco may find Skype an attractive takeover target.

While Skype Connect offers some interesting features and certainly will catch the eye of some businesses, I tend to think where these types of services fall short is with customer service. Companies like Skype are not equipped to provide the type of hand holding small businesses need for UC. They rely on a channel partner network for this support. Google does the same thing with its business focused services. It’s a serious Achilles heel for these web 2.0 companies – an Achilles heel that their competitors can exploit.