Skype has launched a Session Initiation Protocol-based voice service for businesses that integrates free and low cost calling into corporate IP PBXs, providing an opportunity to add voice features to corporate websites and to cut back on some phone expenses.

Skype Connect can enable website call buttons that connect visitors to corporate employees who can answer questions about products. The service also supports use of low-cost Skype Out, the per-minute voice service that places calls from Skype endpoints to phones on wired and wireless public telephone networks.

The new service, formerly called Skype for SIP when it was in beta testing, lets businesses use Skype without requiring a Skype client on every desktop on the corporate network. Instead, the IP PBX accepts Skype calls and links the caller to the appropriate corporate extension.

The service comes with a management platform. If customers want to receive calls from Skype endpoints outside the corporate network, they must pay for Skype online phone numbers that can be routed through Skype servers. These servers make the translation between proprietary Skype signalling and standards-based SIP. The call setup and the actual media packets that carry the conversation also go through the Skype gear, the company says.

Skype Connect enables outbound calling from PBX extensions to phones on the public phone network at Skype Out calling rates, and the service can receive inbound Skype and public-network calls to individual extensions.

The service requires that the PBX supports SIP or has a SIP gateway. The cost of the service is $6.95 per month per call channel, which supports one call at a time, plus the price of Skype online numbers, plus a cache of Skype Out minutes.

Skype Connect has been certified for use with select PBXs from Avaya, BroadSoft, Cisco, Grandstream, Jazinga/FREETALK, LG-Ericsson, Nortel, ShoreTel, Siemens, 3CX and SIPfoundry. Traditional PBXs can be made compatible with Skype Connect through the use of IP gateways from AudioCodes, Grandstream and VoSKY.

Uncertified SIP-compliant gear can be made to work with Skype for SIP, but users would have to configure it without the aid of product-specific documentation, the company says.