Sunday, May 07, 2006

AOL gives you free phone number with AOL IM

This could have fascinating implications for VoIP in the US.

AOL to Add Free Phone to Instant Messaging Feature
AOL is preparing to offer the 41 million users of its instant messaging system a free phone number that will allow people to call them from regular phones while they are online.

The move is part of a broad effort by AOL — which has been buffeted by defections from its flagship dial-up Internet service — to capitalize on the continued popularity of its decade-old AIM instant message system.

The free phone number is a new twist on services that allow calls between regular phones and PC's, an idea made popular by Skype, which is owned by eBay, and copied by others, like Yahoo through its instant message software. As with those services, the new AOL Phoneline service, to be introduced May 16, will allow users to call each other free if both are online, typically using headsets or microphones attached to their computers.

AOL will sell outgoing calls only as part of a flat-rate package that costs $14.90 a month for unlimited calling, or at an introductory price of $9.95 a month for people who subscribe when the service starts.

Skype has not taken off in the United States as it has in other countries because telephone rates are much lower here, said John McKinley, the president of AOL's digital services division. Free incoming calls, he said, are more appealing in this country, especially for people who mostly use cellphones but do not want to give their cell number to casual acquaintances.

These people can give the AOL number out freely. They can then receive notifications on their cellphones of new voice mail messages left at their AOL number.

AOL will make phone numbers available in 50 metropolitan areas. The company hopes to profit both from displaying advertisements to users and from the outbound calling charges and additional services, like ring tones and call forwarding.

So that's pretty cool.

Wouldn't it be neat if cell phones eventually just turn into Internet terminals? I mean, why do cell phones even need dedicated voice channels? Just use all of the bandwidth for Internet. With the Internet as the backbone, then build lots of other services on top of it.

This is why the telecommunications companies want to change how Internet access is billed (no more "unlimited" access) -- because you can build lots of useful services on top of that unlimited access and the telecomm companies don't get a dime of it. Personally, I just think they're whining. You can use an automobile to perform lots of interesting services; however, the car companies don't make you subscribe on a per-use basis. I think it's the same thing here.

So there's a lot of potential for some cool advancements in the next year or so... Just depends on lots of logistical things.

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