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AOL, Microsoft prep dueling VoIP efforts

America Online plans to launch its Net phone service within three weeks, while Redmond is partnering with Qwest.

America Online and Microsoft are both gearing up to launch Internet phone services, the companies announced Tuesday.

AOL plans to launch its TotalTalk Net phone service on Oct. 4. The service will let consumers make and retrieve calls, as well as send and receive e-mail and instant messages, via a PC or home phone when using AOL's AIM Triton client, the company said. The instant-messaging software upgrade will be available later this week.

Meanwhile, Qwest Communications International and Microsoft said they are partnering to enhance VoIP, or voice over Internet Protocol, service for small and midsize businesses.

The companies are the latest players to throw their hat into the increasingly crowded VoIP ring, which includes telecom giants such as SBC Communications, as well as start-up Skype, which is set to be acquired by eBay.

AOL said its TotalTalk service will include such features as a built-in dial pad for PC-to-phone calls and a telephone terminal adapter, or broadband router, to connect traditional telephones to a cable or DSL modem.

The company plans to sell a local plan with unlimited local calls for $18.99 a month; an unlimited calling plan that includes long-distance calls for $29.99 a month; and an international calling plan that includes unlimited domestic calls and discounts on overseas calls for $34.99 per month.

The service will also include call waiting, caller ID, three-way calling and voice mail integrated with e-mail, AOL said.

Qwest plans to bolster its Internet phone service, OneFlex, with Microsoft's Solution for Enhanced VoIP. The companies will integrate VoIP with e-mail, instant messaging, collaboration and desktop services.

"We'll be able to provide (small and medium-size businesses) with powerful yet easy-to-use telephony and desktop capabilities," Tom Richards, executive vice president of Qwest's business markets group, said in a statement.

The suite of services will be packaged under Qwest's OneFlex VoIP service. The companies expect the service to be available sometime next year.