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Tool lets VoIP providers tap Yahoo IM

Sylantro product delivers VoIP to Yahoo IM customers--an industry first, the software developer says.

CHICAGO--Can Yahoo replace the telephone?

Net telephony software developer Sylantro Systems apparently thinks so. The company on Tuesday released a new tool that will let telecommunications providers deliver voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services to customers using Yahoo's instant-messaging service--an industry first, according to the company.

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The offering will be marketed to U.S. carriers, who would then offer it as a service to their subscribers, said David Illing, senior vice president at Sylantro. Subscribers would then be able to access the carrier's VoIP services over Yahoo Messenger.

Two possible customers are SBC Communications and Verizon Communications, which already use Sylantro's VoIP software, although no deals have been signed yet. The new software is being demonstrated for the first time at Supercomm 2004, a telephone industry trade show taking place here this week.

Sylantro said it has no formal agreement with Yahoo to extend VoIP capabilities to its IM client, having developed the new tool using Yahoo's open-presence interface public license.

A Yahoo representative said, "We are not aware of Sylantro's integration efforts with our products and, therefore, have no plans to implement their services with Yahoo Messenger."

The tool works with Yahoo Messenger 6.0, adding to Sylantro's existing VoIP products, which allow service providers to offer VoIP features through a number of interfaces, including browsers, Microsoft's Outlook e-mail client and telephone display screens.

There is already a healthy amount of free calling among users of Yahoo Messenger, which allows any two subscribers to plug headphones into their computers and talk at no cost. But the company has yet to see significant traffic among plans that charge subscribers on a per-minute basis, a source said. The premium service lets IM subscribers call phones as well as other computers.

The new interest in voice capabilities could be "just what this industry needs" because of the presence of Yahoo Messenger on 40 million computer desktops, making it by far the largest potential customer base in the Net phone industry, Illing said. Plus, it may draw competitive responses from two of Yahoo's major IM rivals: Microsoft and America Online.

"The goal here is to drive mass adoption," Illing said.

An America Online representative said the company is "looking at everything," in terms of upgrading its instant-messaging software, but for now, the company is not planning any voice upgrades. A Microsoft representative could not be immediately reached for comment.

Will consumers dump their phones for IM? Some observers aren't so sure. Especially in the United States, the natural instinct when making a phone call is to reach for a phone, not a computer, said Sarah Hofstetter, senior vice president of Net2Phone, a cable telephony provider. Once technology to make Net calls from regular phones became affordable, adoption of the technology took place, she said.

"That's really why VoIP evolved beyond the desktop," she said.