Yahoo adds Skype-like ability to its instant messenger

Wednesday, December 7th 2005, 1:38 pm
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Yahoo Inc. is entering a suddenly crowded field, offering Skype-like capabilities through its instant-messaging service that will let people dial regular phone numbers using their computers or receive calls from conventional phones.

The company has not set a firm date for the availability of the new paid features to the mostly free Yahoo Messenger service but indicated the launch was imminent.

Yahoo's addition of computer-to-phone capabilities follows a similar retooling of the rival AOL Instant Messenger service from Time Warner Inc. in October.

It also comes just as Skype is revamping its popular service with video calling, a feature that's been available through Yahoo Messenger for several years, though only for computer-to-computer calls.

In a similar vein, Sony Corp. introduced a free Internet-based phone service last month with an emphasis on visual calling that the company hopes will fuel sales of its video equipment.

Yahoo's new ``Phone Out'' option enables users to call regular and mobile phones for one cent per minute in the United States and two cents a minute to about 30 other countries, including calls to Argentina, Australia, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Korea.

On the flip side, users can sign up for a traditional phone number to receive unlimited calls to their computers from anywhere for a monthly fee of $3 or an annual payment of about $30.

The same services at Skype, which was acquired by Internet auctioneer eBay Inc. for $2.6 billion in October, are 2.3 cents per minute for computer-to-phone calls to about 25 countries including the United States, and about $35 a year for a SkypeIn phone number to receive calls.

Yahoo's upgrade also includes the addition of a contact search bar for its instant messenger window to make it easier to find people in their buddy lists by typing parts of a name or phone number.