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Networking

Skype gets the message

Phone provider Skype is getting set to offer voice mail, but can it to catch up to competitors?

Internet phone company Skype is testing a voice mail service, a sign its set to catch up to competitors when it comes to taking messages.

Most other top-tier commercial Internet phone providers have made voice mail a staple, in some cases, years ago.

A Skype representative did not disclose Wednesday any of the particulars of Skype's voice mail service, including how much it will cost. A description of the service notes that messages are automatically placed on someone's personal computer after being listened to. That's an indication Skype is using its infrastructure to first store the voice mail messages.

Skype, Vonage, AT&T's CallVantage and Packet8 are among the most popular of the new telephone companies selling voice over Internet Protocol, in which high-speed Internet connections are also telephone lines. Such services are cheaper to consumers, sometimes by up to $25 a month, because they avoided the heavily taxed and regulated traditional phone networks owned by the nation's major local phone companies.

Many Net phone insiders say Skype shoulders the burden for a new generation of cheaper, more ubiquitous phone technology. Yet, as Skype's pending voice mail offering shows, it doesn't yet have a steady stream of income. Rather, it gives away its chief product--software used to make free phone calls between broadband-enabled computers--and generates revenue by charging for premium services.

That's a much different way of doing business than most others selling Net phone services. Skype competitors sell flat-rate dialing for a monthly fee. That makes Skype's financial risks to develop and then offer new services much greater than most of its competitors.

So far, though, the costs don't appear to be straining Skype's coffers, nor is the company worried about its financial future. "We are not looking for any additional investors now," Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom said in a recent interview.