RealTime IT News

AOL Gives Voice to Consumers

America Online launched a consumer version of its AIM Voice Conferencing (AVC) system today, underscoring the company's stated belief that instant messaging is the new doorway to communication in the office and at home.

AOL's 36 million active IM users can now access AVC, a "party line" from the the company's IM service, with Lightbridge GroupTalk dial-out conferencing technology.

The service, an extension of the business model rolled out in June, is a group-calling program that allows up to 15 users to conference at once. AOL is offering 500 free minutes for each new user during the holidays.

Kevin Thornton, vice president and general manager of Lightbridge, said the Consumer AVC is "a natural extension" of the at-work conferencing service the two companies launched in June.

"Our on-demand, dial-out, group-calling model translates well into everyday life whenever families, friends or social groups come together," he said.

AVC calls travel over regular telephone lines, and there are no dial-ins or PINs required to use the system.

Once activated, the service places a call directly to participants on either landlines or mobile phones. It can also send invitations to personal computers, mobile phones or PDAs to chat through AIM.

Brian Curry, senior director of AIM Network Services, said the conferencing size of 15 provided a "large amount of headroom" primarily because the same mechanics from the business version are being used for the consumer version.

Phone services are billed as "AVC minutes" and are counted on a "per-minute, per-user" basis. An AVC minute is the total number of minutes spent on a call, multiplied by the number of participants on the call.

The cost of a call is approximately $0.15 cents a minute per user. Time can be purchased in advance at either $20, $50 or $100.

Users can access the service at AIM.com and on the Communications Tools addition to the AIM 5.9 Buddy List feature. New users and users with version 5.6 or earlier can download the updated version of the AIM software at the Web site.