Last week the story spread pretty quickly that Yahoo was launching integrated PC-to-phone calls (and vice versa) through their instant messenger program. The official press release should be popping out of Santa Clara in a few hours, but to make the story more interesting, Microsoft has timed it to announce their own version, based on their Teleo acquisition and a deal with MCI. At first glance, the Microsoft announcement falls short in almost every way to Yahoo's. Yahoo's prices are going to be less than half of Microsoft's (and Skype's) and rather than working with just one provider (MCI), it appears Yahoo is leveraging relationships with a number of different telco providers, giving them more flexibility. Still, these are just the early positioning moves before the big battle which has yet to come. The real question is whether any of these providers can really make their VoIP offering into a true platform -- opening up a real API to let others build voice into more applications, even (gasp!) competitors' applications. From what we've seen so far, it appears the early focus is on using voice to drive more people in as a destination site -- even when that makes very little sense. It's not surprising, but it means there's still a ways to go before we see some of the innovation that will eventually come out of all this. In the meantime, these two announcements, both of which everyone should have seen from about 50,000 miles away, should increase the head scratching over the amount of cash eBay threw at Skype. The battle over next generation voice offerings is just starting. It's not about cheap calls, though the press will go through that phase. For people not calling internationally who have big flat rate plans or unlimited calling, "cheap calls" aren't particularly appealing. The real battle is about how VoIP lets people do things they couldn't do before -- and we're only scratching the surface of that. Update: Even the smaller players are using today as the day. Apparently the Gizmo Project/SIPphone is also announcing their PC-to-phone offering, which looks to match Yahoo's pricing of one cent/minute. These price battles will obscure the real war for a while.
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