Voice and video over IP will play an increasingly prominent role in Microsoft Corp’s Live Services strategy, corporate VP Blake Irving said at the VON conference yesterday in San Jose, California.
Currently, the company offers PC-to-PC VoIP through its MSN Messenger. Windows Live Messenger users in some market can also make one-way calls from their PC to an outside number. And Microsoft also has free IP video, in partnership with Logitech.
But later this year, Redmond will launch new VoIP beta features for Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Search and Windows Live Messenger.
Irving gave the first public demonstration of new VoIP and video-IP capabilities on the new Windows Live Mail Desktop beta.
Live Mail will have a free e-mail client so users can launch a PC-to-PC VoIP or video call by clicking a contact in their address book or directly from an e-mail. A nifty feature is that the contact’s online and availability status shows up in an e-mail, next to the sender’s name.
Irving’s demo of making a video call from e-mail went off without a hitch.
However, when he wasn’t so successful in launching a VoIP call driectly from a search result, which Microsoft will test voice with Windows Live Search. Irving fobbed the glitch off as a volume-control snafu.
Had the demo been successful, Irving would have called an outside PSTN number thanks to a partnership with Verizon Communications, which handled the PSTN termination. Obviously, this feature would only work for users in a Verizon territory.
Irving said Microsoft was willing to partner with a number of carriers in different regions to geographically extend this capability.
But he stressed that Microsoft would only have one dedicated carrier for each region because if consumers have to choose from a list of carriers, they get frustrated and give up. This was Microsoft’s experience five years ago when it launched its first, primitive VoIP platform, he said.
Microsoft also is working with Royal Philips Electronics and Uniden American to introduce new phones that enable PC-to-PC and one-way PC-to-phone VoIP calls through Windows Live Messenger. He showed off a model from each company, each of which was roughly the size of a cable TV remote control.
Redmond is making a lot of investments across every product segment in voice, Irving said. Just a small fraction of its MSN Messengers subscribers currently use its PC-to-PC voice feature, which works out to 20 million users a month, or 9% of its install base.
In mid-September, the minutes of usage of Microsoft video exceeded voice for the first time, since it was launched more than a year ago, with 1.1 billion minutes of video versus 800 million minutes of audio being currently used, Irving said.
Microsoft has spent the past six or seven years building an giant database of all the digital ID it has of users, which includes every e-mail, Messenger and Hotmail address, Irving said. This so-called Address Book Clearing House currently has 13 billion contacts, which Microsoft expects will go down in number as users cull duplicate addresses with its Windows Live platform.
The company’s vision is to help those users better control who they communicate with, based on a tiered permission model set by the user.
About seven weeks ago, Microsoft launched a beta Live Contacts feature, which enables people to subscribe to other’s contact records. And users can revoke that subscription too.
That contact store has the same permission model for bringing people in and pushing them out, he said.
Microsoft also plans use that contact store to enable people do a variety of actions, including giving them a phone call, he said.
Currently, about one million users per week have signed up for Live Contacts, he said.
Microsoft also has 205 million Messenger users, of which 26 million are using the service simultaneously on average, he said. And with 230 million Hotmail users and more than 7 million Live Contact users, these are gnarly numbers, Irving said.
You’ve got a lot of people in this ecosystem that are linked in. . . it’s a super power thing for developers to get their heads around, Irving said. This is nothing but opportunity for all communications services and goods vendors, he said.