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AOL opens AIM voice-call interface

Company begins sharing its programming interface for Internet phone call abilities, as part of an effort to profit more from its instant-messaging service.

AOL said Tuesday it has opened the interface to AIM Call Out, a move that will let programmers more easily build products that tap into the service for making calls over the Internet to mobile or landline phones

The Open Voice API (application programming interface) is freely available. Building it into a device, such as a phone with Internet access or with support for SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), can let people call using AOL's network and bypass much of the ordinary telephone infrastructure.

AOL charges fees for using the Call Out service, but the rates are compelling, the company argues. Calling within the United States costs 1.7 cents per minute; calling Beijing costs 1.5 cents per minute; and calling a mobile phone in the U.K. costs 20 to 25 cents per minute.

"Our offering and our rates are competitive with traditional landline and mobile carriers, as well as other VoIP carriers in the space," Brent Newsome, director of AOL's voice services, said in a statement.

The move is part of the Time Warner division's effort to expand its free AOL Instant Messaging network into revenue-generating areas. AOL has 62 million active AIM users, the company said.

It's not the only company making the move from IM to voice over Internet Protocol. Yahoo Instant Messenger, a top rival, said Tuesday it's moving off its in-house phone connection technology to that of start-up Jajah in the third quarter.