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French Version

No more free calls

If You’re a regular user of Internet telephone services, then you’re in for an unpleasant surprise.

If You’re a regular user of Internet telephone services, then you’re in for an unpleasant surprise.

No more free calls, I’m afraid. The free ride is over. MSN, dialpad.com and others are now all charging. In fact, it’s a wonder that they haven’t been charging for so long.

Back in the old days of the new economy the game was all about getting traffic to your site. What could possibly attract more people than free phone services? Dialpad.com, for example, is bursting with advertisements, and actually makes a lot of money, however the downturn in advertising expenditure on the ‘net’ and the need to show other revenue sources by Internet businesses has resulted in a decision to charge for phone calls.

Also, Yahoo! has begun to charge two cents per minute to place a telephone call over the Internet using its Yahoo! Messenger instant messaging software, the service is routed over the Net2Phone’s voice-over-Internet protocol network.

A report from the US states that this is an industry-wide trend, “Last week, Microsoft began charging two cents per minute for domestic calls placed over the Internet using its MSN Messenger. Meanwhile, AmericaOnline has always charged one cent per minute for placing telephone calls over the Internet. In January, PhoneFree began charging customers, citing slow ad sales.” MSN in particular really achieved penetration thanks to its free phone call service. I’m sure that the number of MSN downloads ran into the millions. Suddenly, even older computer owners who never bothered to turn on their PCs were asking me how to ‘download MSN and conduct an Internet phone call’.

For a while, it was completely free, then it stopped being free to most countries, but was still free for callers to the US. A while afterwards, calls to the US were limited to five minutes, and now they’re being charged for.

An interesting fact is that the popularity of free calling services has resulted in the introduction of payment for calls.

Net2Phone, who were handling the calls made my MSN and Yahoo clients, said that customers ‘swamped’ its network, which drove Net2Phone’s costs higher than expected. Eventually, Net2Phone was forced to renegotiate its business relationship with Yahoo! and Microsoft; thereby charging for phone calls.

Still, the charges are very low compared to what you would typically pay on regular calls. This industry-wide shift to paid calls is sparking a price war, with per-minute rates dipping. That should be very encouraging for callers.

Studies on paid PC-to-telephone calls saw that their popularity will quadruple this year to about 9.5 billion paid minutes. That number is expected to jump to 332 billion minutes by 2005.

In the meantime, you can explore the possibilities of PC-to-PC voice communications, which is pretty much like chatting, but with voice. Although the sound quality isn’t too good, and there’s the problem of arranging for a ‘voice-chat’ time, it could be a short-term answer to your needs. However, there’s nothing like the convenience of making a call, PC-to-telephone, whenever needed.

I think this whole thing could spark a demand for credit cards, especially the innovative ‘Internet credit card’ presented by some Jordanian banks which carries a relatively low limit and provides some safety measures for users.

If a minute to the US is going to be charged at 10 cents, wouldn’t you rather call through the Internet? Of course you would. Maybe it’s time you started using a credit card, and it will open up a whole new world of online shopping you never ventured into before.

Zeid Nasser
The Star

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