RealTime IT News

Microsoft, MCI Dial up VoIP Partnership

Not to be outdone in the voice over IP (VoIP ) features race, Microsoft is giving its instant messaging (IM) users the ability to dial into phones from their PC.

The Redmond software giant announced a partnership with telecommunications carrier MCI Monday to deliver PC-to-phone service through the upcoming Windows Live Messenger.

Live Messenger's invite-only beta testing program begins Tuesday.

Microsoft and MCI will test the PC-to-phone service in five markets initially -- the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain -- and expand to more global locations in the first half of 2006.

An upgrade to the MSN Messenger, Live Messenger was already tapped to deliver free PC-to-PC phone calls. The feature has been in place since April with the launch of MSN Messenger 7.0 in April.

Phone calls to landlines and mobile phones will be handled through the MCI Web Calling for Windows Live Call service, similar to the SkypeOut service provided by popular consumer VoIP provider Skype. During the beta test, MCI will provide up to one hour of free service and rates of 2 cents per minute. Pre-paid phone cards in $5, $10 and $25 blocks will also be available.

Officials said finalized pricing will be determined when Live Messenger officially launches next year.

"We are thrilled to work with a proven global technology partner like MCI to provide the bridge between PCs and phones with high-quality voice services that enable people to communicate more easily, conveniently and inexpensively," Blake Irving, Microsoft MSN communications services and member platform group corporate vice president, said in a statement. "Our customers are going to love this."

Like the other major consumer messaging players in the market, Microsoft went on a spending spree this year to put enhanced VoIP in its product lines. In August the company acquired San Francisco-based VoIP developer Teleo for an undisclosed amount. Teleo's products included both PC-to-PC and PC-to-phone capabilities.

Last month the company picked up media-streams.com to deliver VoIP capabilities to its Office applications and servers, which will allow customers to do things such as make phone calls from e-mail messages. The technology will be rolled up and integrated with Microsoft's Live Communications Server, the company's collaboration software.

Yahoo has been working to integrate the technology it gained through the purchase of Dialpad Communications in June, a VoIP developer that specialized in PC-to-phone service. Company officials said they plan to incorporate the technology into its Messenger as well as throughout its portal network.

AOL launched its Total Talk VoIP service in September.

Skype, the most popular consumer VoIP offering out there, became one of the dominant public instant messaging (IM) platforms by default with the inclusion of chat into its architecture. The company offers both SkypeOut and SkypeIn, a service that gives its users a real phone number for mobile and landline phones to call.