Microsoft has staked a claim in the US VoIP market by announcing its software users can soon make Internet calls to standard phones thanks to a new partnership with MCI. Although rival products from the likes of Yahoo and Skype offer extra features, given Microsoft’s broad market reach elsewhere and its alliance with MCI, this should not affect the company’s foray into VoIP in the longer term.
Microsoft has announced plans to release its first beta version of Live Messenger with VoIP.
The MCI Web Calling for Windows Live service will be available in the first half of 2006. Essentially, it combines MCI’s existing VoIP offerings with Microsoft software.
The service will be available via Windows Live Messenger, the upcoming successor to Microsoft’s existing instant messaging (IM) service. At 2.3 cents per minute, it will undercut rates from MCI, which is being acquired by Verizon Communications. However, this rate may change once the product is out of beta, Microsoft has revealed.
The service is currently being trialed in the US, and beta testing will roll out in France, Germany, Spain and the UK in the coming weeks.
Microsoft’s announcement came within hours of Yahoo’s official public beta launch of its Yahoo Messenger with Voice service, which the company has been touting for months. As promised, Yahoo will charge about one cent per month for calls within the US and less than two cents per minute to 30 countries.
But, unlike Microsoft’s VoIP service, Yahoo users are able to receive calls to their VoIP phone from traditional phones, for a small fee. Most VoIP service providers, including Skype and Vonage, also have this feature.
Given Microsoft’s broad market reach elsewhere, the absence of this feature is unlikely to dent its influence in the VoIP market in the long-run. The company is expected, at some future point, to link its new VoIP service to its other desktop software, including Outlook or Word.
For example, Microsoft claims that there are currently 185 million active MSN Messenger users globally, and believes roughly 25 million unique users a month use Messenger for webcam sessions. Microsoft said it was reasonable to expect that this same group of early tech adopters would be initial users of its VoIP service.
Microsoft also has a large base of mobile users for its Windows software, which could help it compete in the emerging WiFi VoIP market at some future point. And, unlike Google, Skype, Vonage and others, Microsoft has a potentially powerful ally in a large telecommunications provider such as MCI.