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Downside to Skype/Netgear agreement

In an under-reported bit of news from CES, it looks like Skype have found the answer to their supernode issue.

Supernodes are intermediately computers that help facilitate peer-to-peer Skype calls, especially ones that need to traverse NAT scenarios.

When you have Skype running idle some of your bandwidth can be used if you are acting as a supernode. However if you’re running Skype behind a router than it’s less likely this can happen, because of the firewall protection routers afford you.

For Skype this is a bad thing, as it effects the quality of their network – and it’s something Skype have been a little cagy about when I’ve asked them about whether this ultimately becomes a scalability issue for their network.

However, during CES Skype announced a couple of deals with Netgear. In addition to launching a Skype-enabled WiFi handset, Netgear will also be “Skype Optimizing” their new line of routers.

It looks like future Netgear routers will be configured such that they don’t need to use supernodes to facilitate calls. One can only assume this will be via port forwarding on the standard Skype port.

Of course, opening up any holes in your firewall is a bad thing, but even more so if it’s merely to lessen that burden upon your VoIP provider rather than to enable new functionality. And what happens if an exploit is discovered in Skype – suddenly your not protected to the same degree then if your firewall settings hadn’t been played with!

What’s worse is that it seems likely that the Netgear routers will also be setup to enable your instance of Skype to act as a supernode itself.

Ok, ok, hands up to Skype – it’s a great strategy for them. Go from the existing position where each new domestic router installed on the Internet potentially removes a supernode and then further demands one to be available for it’s own use — to a new position where each new router removes the requirement for a supernode but adds an extra one to the network anyway.

But I can only think that Netgear are undermining their own customers, especially the ones who won’t know how to change these settings. My guess is it might have been part of the deal to get a lucrative exclusive/near-exclusive VoIP handset contract (but that’s just my guess).

Having bought Netgear as my choice of router, I’m now planning on buying Linksys (from Cisco) in the future, anyway. But with this announcement in mind, I won’t be recommending Netgear anymore either.

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