Worldwide Skype outage highlights dependence on VoIP

A Skype outage Wednesday cut millions of users’ connection to the popular worldwide network.

Paul Sakuma/AP/File
Skype's website is shown on a computer screen in Palo Alto, Calif. A worldwide Skype outage caused millions to lose their connection to the popular VoIP network, Wednesday.

For some, it was like having their phone service cut for the better part of the day. Companies and individuals who rely on Skype lost their long distance and video chat access for much of the day, Wednesday.

The popular VoIP program depends on "supernodes" to connect users with the network and each other. On Wednesday morning, large numbers of these supernodes went down, preventing many users from logging onto the Skype network.

Telephone outages are local; this was a worldwide disruption. The Luxembourg company connects 25 million users from all over the world simultaneously at any given moment. So it was no surprise that social networks and blogs immediately started discussing the outage. Twitter has become a known go-to source for the online community to find out about network problems with services like Facebook, Gmail, and Skype.

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While businesses use the service to connect departments, individuals have come to depend on it for free or very cheap long distance voice and video calls. Message boards were flooded Wednesday with distressed comments from Skype users. Some were trying to connect with family overseas at the holidays, while one lamented on a lost day of profits for a business which depended on Skype for sales calls.

Skype tried to calm tempers, posting information about the service disruption on its blog and explaining that its engineers were “creating new ‘mega-supernodes’ as fast as they can, which should gradually return things to normal. This may take a few hours."

The fix took took longer than expected, though, and many US users were still unable to connect to the network late Wednesday night. Shortly after 4:00pm EST the Skype team tweeted "Skype now returning to normal," but many were still tweeting their frustrations that the network fix had not worked for them.

This was the second service disruption in 2010, but the last significant outage was in 2007 when users lost access to the network for between 12 hours and two days.

As the VoIP service has gained worldwide popularity, many businesses have begun to use it to communicate within departments and between offices, abandoning the telephone. Skype offers VoIP, video chat, instant messaging and screen sharing, which some businesses use for web conferencing.

Skype says the outage has been mostly remedied, but as the world begins to make its phone calls and hold its business meetings online, the VoIP service will have to guarantee day-long worldwide outages don't occur too often.

Until then, stay tuned on Twitter.

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