Messenger 3.0 Spreads Word about Free Internet Phone Calls

Wouldn’t you like to make your next business call for free? The technology already exists.

August 1, 2000

Ever decide that a phone call to a particularly jittery buyer or seller might be more appropriate than the e-mail you’re composing?

Then you’ll appreciate a key feature found in the latest version of Microsoft’s free instant message service and software for Windows PCs, Microsoft Messenger 3.0. (Visit messenger.msn.com for free download). Included in its menu of communications options is free local and long-distance direct calling from your computer, via the Internet, to a PC or telephone anywhere in the United States or Canada.

That’s right: free. Your calls to relo clients, franchise headquarters, and mom, which would normally incur a long-distance charge, cost nothing more than what you already pay for Internet access--roughly $20 a month. All that’s required to make these calls from your PC is a headset, microphone, sound card, the software, and Internet access.

This concept, called “Internet telephony,” promises to redefine your telecommunications options over the next five years, and shake up the long-distance market. In fact, the market research firm International Data Corp. projects that 135 billion minutes of voice conversation will be carried over the Internet by 2004. It’s a concept worth exploring if you’re looking for ways to contain office or home office long-distance phone bills.

Microsoft Messenger 3.0 is neither the first nor the only solution for placing phone calls online. Free Internet calling services have been available from Internet companies such as DialPad, Media Ring, and PhoneFree, for some time. You can also tap the Internet for savings on long-distance calls made from a regular phone with purchase of hardware and software packages, such as Net2phone’s $160 YapJack. The equipment lets you use your phone to dial in via the Net.

What may be most noteworthy about this latest release of Messenger is the way it simplifies the process of placing calls online, thereby helping to legitimize the concept. Messenger offers several ways to communicate: instant messaging, paging, e-mail, voice chat (using your computer’s mike), or telephone.Initiating a call is as simple as clicking on a ‘call’ icon and a name with a phone number you’ve preprogrammed into the system much like you would in stockpiling your contact manager. For calling someone not on your contact list, the software also features an on-screen dial pad.

Make calls for free to another PC equipped with the appropriate hardware and software anywhere in the world, or to any telephone within the United States or Canada. If the party you’re trying to reach isn’t there, the software also allows users the options of quickly composing and sending an e-mail or paging message from the same screen.

Microsoft Messenger’s new calling features are made possible through integration of technology originally developed by Net2Phonethat carriesvoice and data over the Internet. The pioneers have brought the technology this far, but there are limitations. In general, Internet telephony has a way to go before it delivers the combination of quality and reliability expected from land-line communications. Voice quality can vary. It’s comparable to cellular, but there may be occasional lags in the conversation comparable to what you experience in some overseas calls. And like anything you do online, the service is subject to the occasional crash, which brings conversation to a halt.

Still, the fact that Microsoft Messenger and other Internet calling services are available for free offers a no-risk introduction to calling services and features that you may rely on in the future. How often do you have a chance to get an early education on new technology and save some money in the process?

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