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BT, Yahoo mix VoIP with messaging

The companies jump on the Internet-calling bandwagon with a service in the United Kingdom that will let users make calls from an instant-messaging client to any telephone in the world.

BT Group and Yahoo have teamed up to create a service in the United Kingdom that will provide voice over Internet Protocol calling from an instant-messaging client to any telephone in the world.

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The companies announced on Thursday that they will integrate IP voice calling with the features and functionality of Yahoo Messenger. The service will be distributed on the Yahoo network in the United Kingdom and through a wide variety of BT channels throughout that nation. The companies also plan to make BT Communicator a part of all Yahoo Messenger clients distributed in the United Kingdom.

The service is expected to launch later this year. The two companies plan to share revenue from the service.

The agreement builds on the companies' existing relationship. BT and Yahoo forged a partnership in June 2003 to develop a co-branded broadband service in the United Kingdom. That service packages Internet access with Yahoo Internet tools and services. Yahoo has similar broadband access deals with SBC Communications in the United States and Rogers Communications unit Rogers Cable in Canada.

Yahoo has been offering VoIP calling on its Messenger product since 2001. What is different about the BT/Yahoo product is that it allows the instant-messaging client to make calls to any phone in the traditional circuit-switched telephone network, said Jon Carter, a BT spokesman. Yahoo's stand-alone Messenger product only allows PC-to-PC calling.

Free peer-to-peer VoIP service from start-up Skype also offers only PC-to-PC calling.

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Yahoo has a similar arrangement in the United States with VoIP service provider Net2Phone. This integrated service also allows customers to make calls from their PC to any telephone. But the Net2Phone/Yahoo service is offered only to customers residing in the United States, according to a Net2Phone official.

Voiceglo, which recently announced $28 million in funding, also sells a peer-to-peer VoIP service that lets people call traditional phones from their PCs.

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Carter said the BT/Yahoo service also has call waiting and directory functions, and comes with an integrated package that enables e-mail, instant messaging and voice calling to be launched from the same place on the desktop.

VoIP has become a must-have technology for carriers over the last year, as start-ups like Skype and Vonage have emerged with new services.

Large carriers in the United States such as AT&T and Qwest Communications, have announced plans to offer VoIP services to residential and business customers. And Verizon, the largest regional Bell carrier in the country, has begun to convert its internal voice network to IP.