BT and Yahoo have begun offering free PC-to-PC voice calls over IP-based broadband connections, in a challenge to internet telephony pioneers such as Skype.
The BT Communicator with Yahoo! Messenger service is designed to allow customers to manage phone calls, emails, texts and instant messaging on their PCs - with video calls scheduled to be available next year.
From today, users can make free calls from PC to PC via BT's VoIP network service. Calls to fixed-line phones or mobiles will be charged at BT Together fixed-line phone rates.
International calls will be charged at national rates. Calls to the UK from abroad can be made using a laptop plugged into a local broadband line, which is then routed over the internet to make it appear a domestic call.
Users will also be able to use the software to send text messages to mobile phones.
"Unlike other VoIP software - like Skype, for example - you aren't restricted only to talking to people who have the same software as you," Andrew Burke, BT Retail's director of value added services, told vnunet.com.
"This really is the first mass market VoIP application and is a great technology to converge communications and the PC. The quality for the VoIP is as good as fixed line or even better."
John Marcom, Yahoo's senior vice president of international operations, said that with the increasing popularity of instant messaging it was natural to combine the technologies.
"We believe that BT Communicator with Yahoo! Messenger will take internet telephony to the mainstream in the UK," he said.
On the Yahoo! Messenger platform, phone numbers and addresses are stored in the address book. Users click on the address book entry and the PC will dial the number requested, billed to the user's BT phone bill.
"Customers don't want to know they are using VoIP or worry about how it works, they just want to be able to use the phone," said Burke.
Anyone with a BT phone line can use the service after downloading BT's free software. Users may require headphones or headsets costing between £5 and £20, according to BT.
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