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Sony launches free Internet phone service

The electronics giant launches a free Web-based phone service called Instant Video Everywhere.

Add Sony to the list of companies getting into the telephone business. The electronics giant launched a free Web-based phone service on Wednesday called Instant Video Everywhere, designed to link users of the service via their computers. According to an advertisement on Sony's Web site, the new service will ship with the company's latest version of Vaio BX laptops, which are equipped with built-in video cameras.

The move comes as traditional phone companies are losing their grip on services that were once theirs exclusively. In September, auction powerhouse eBay announced that it had agreed to pay $2.6 billion for Net telephone provider Skype, one of the premiere VoIP, or voice over Internet Protocol, companies. eBay said it plans to boost communications between buyers and sellers.

Yahoo, AOL and others also offer video-calling services similar to IVE. Video-phone services have long been touted by technology enthusiasts but have struggled to attract a mainstream audience.

In June, Sony signaled that it might offer a consumer telephone offering, when it rolled out an IVE service aimed at businesses. Sony is working with Glowpoint, a Hillside, N.J.-based video-phone service provider known for its "All You Can See" unlimited video dialing plans and easy-to-use services, which include features such as live video operators and video-call mailboxes. Sony said it will also offer to connect IVE users to landlines and cell phones for a monthly fee of $9.95.

Sony executives did not immediately return calls for comment.

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