Microsoft Corp. and MCI Inc. (NASDAQ: MCIP) today announced a global, multiyear partnership to provide software and services that enable customers to place calls from a personal computer to virtually any phone. The solution, MCI Web Calling for Windows Live™ Call, will be available through Windows Live Messenger, the upcoming successor to MSN® Messenger, which has more than 185 million active accounts around the world. The solution combines Windows Live software, advanced voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) capabilities and the strengths of MCI’s expansive global network to give consumers an easy-to-use, convenient and cost-effective way to stay connected.
That clarifies the branding question.
MCI and Microsoft are testing the service as part of a Windows Live Messenger limited beta with subscriptions initially available in the United States, and expect to jointly deliver the PC-to-phone calling capabilities to France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom in the coming weeks. Once subscribed to the service, customers can place calls to and from more than 220 countries with rates starting at $.023 per minute to the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Western Europe during the beta testing period. Upon sign-up, MCI Web Calling customers will receive up to one hour of free calls. Final pricing will be determined when the product officially launches in 2006.
The tentative pricing seems roughly comparable to SkypeOut, but more than the $.01 per minute for the service Yahoo announced last week. Note however, that no mention is made of any provision for calls from a regular phone to a user of the service, unlike the extra cost SkypeIn or Yahoo PhoneIn services.
The Microsoft and MCI technology builds on Microsoft’s PC-to-PC voice investments, and will enable customers to call from a PC to phones around the world, including mobile phones, by simply clicking on an entry within their contact list in Windows Live Messenger or typing a phone number into the Windows Live Call softphone, taking the instant messaging experience to a new level.
Besides internal Microsoft development, this likely includes the August acquisition of Teleo although it is not mentioned.
Interested parties can learn more about Windows Live Messenger at http://ideas.live.com.
Customers will be able to sign up for MCI Web Calling via the Windows Live Messenger client. MCI will manage customer registration, terminating calls, customer account management, customer support and billing for the PC-to-phone voice service, and will work closely with Microsoft on delivering a high-quality software service and customer experience. Customers will purchase prepaid calling time from MCI in $5, $10 or $25 blocks for use with the service.
Windows Live, a new set of personal Internet services and software, is designed to bring together in one place all the relationships, information and interests people care about most, with enhanced safety and security features across their PC, devices and the Web. MSN and Windows Live will be offered alongside each other as complementary services.
And eventually the final demarcation between MSN and Windows Live will be clarified.
One final observation – a key aspect of all VoIP offerings is call quality and comparisons will have to await to the actual delivery of the services.