This took me a long time, but I finally got Skype working well on my girl-friend’s laptop under Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty. So here’s a description of the issues I encountered just in case somebody else is suffering from the same problems.
The audio quality of Skype on this laptop was absolutely abysmal, and ever so often the conversation was interrupted for a couple of seconds — no audio came through, and the video froze. It was just not possible to have a real conversation that way.
The solution I found, after literally months of experimenting, reading through forums, pulling my hair out, is as follows:
- Upgrade to the most recent Skype beta, version 18.104.22.168. With this version, Skype supports pulseaudio (the standard Ubuntu sound server) natively for the first time.
- Upgrade to pulseaudio 0.9.15 or higher (Ubuntu Jaunty comes with pulseaudio 0.9.14). I used the packages that you get from the following source:
deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/themuso/ppa/ubuntu jaunty main. Upgrade all the packages that have “pulse” in their name.
- With the new Skype version, it is no longer Skype that selects the input and output devices for sound. You have to configure that in the pulseaudio sound server. The application that lets you do that is called
pavucontroland is not installed in Ubuntu Jaunty by default. You have to download it separately, the package is called
- It may or may not be necessary to give real-time privileges to the pulseaudio daemon process. I can add details about how to do that if requested. But I actually think it even works without that.
With the above steps, I got an acceptable sound quality in principle. However, the sound would still hang, or drop, for several seconds once every couple of minutes. This, it turned out, is due to a completely unrelated problem. As outlined in this bug report, there is an incompatibility between the GNOME network manager and some WiFi drivers. The network manager tries to rescan for available networks even while already connected to an access point. This works for most WiFi drivers, but causes some other drivers to drop their connections whenever this scanning occurs. It turns out that the WiFi driver in this Thinkpad T43p, which has an Atheros WiFi card, is affected by this problem. As I could see in the system logs, the WiFi connection went down for a couple of seconds every two minutes, and was reacquired automatically shortly thereafter. It was exactly during those moments that the Skype conversation froze.
It is not yet clear how this problem will ultimately be resolved between the network manager and the WiFi drivers. Some argue that the network manager should stop scanning while connected, others say that the WiFi drivers should be enhanced to support this type of operation. In the meantime, a workaround is to use a modified network manager package which has the background scanning disabled. Such a package can be found here: https://launchpad.net/~volanin/+archive/ppa/+build/1124266/+files/network-manager_0.7.1~rc4.1.cf199a964-0ubuntu2-volanin1_i386.deb
I assume that the other workarounds that are mentioned in the above bug report would also work. With this change installed, I finally got acceptable audio quality and uninterrupted connections.