America Online is offering free phone numbers to the 41 million users of its instant messaging service, which will allow them to receive unlimited free phone calls from regular phones using Voice over Internet Protocol technology. Called AIM Phoneline, the offering is set to go live May 16.
In addition, AOL next week plans to launch AIM Pages, a new service designed to compete with the massively popular MySpace.com site.
Not All Free
AIM Phoneline isn't entirely a giveaway. The phone number and inbound calls are free, but to place calls from your PC to regular phones you will have to upgrade to AIM Phoneline Unlimited. It costs $14.90 per month for unlimited domestic and international calling. This flat-rate pricing also includes PC calls made to landline numbers in 25 countries and PC calls to cell phones in 5 countries.
AOL is offering a one-month free trial of its premium inbound and outbound PC-to-phone service and will offer a discount (a lifetime price of $9.95 per month) if you are one of the first to sign up for AIM Phoneline Unlimited.
Initially AOL will offer phone numbers in 50 metropolitan areas. The free service comes with voice mail and the ability to send voice-mail alerts to your cell phone. AOL plans to make money from outbound call fees, by displaying ads to consumers, and by "upselling" ring tones and call forwarding services to users.
AOL Gets Skype Envy
AOL is entering a crowded marketplace: Skype and a host of competing VoIP services offer similar VoIP calling plans.
Skype's PC-to-PC calling service is free, but it charges 2.1 cents a minute for outbound domestic calls using its SkypeOut PC-to-telephone service. Skype also offers a SkypeIn beta service, which allows you to subscribe to a telephone number for $38 a year. You must purchase Skype minutes for inbound and outbound calls.
AOL already offers a number of VoIP services, some of which PC World has reviewed.
Gunning for MySpace.com
Expected to launch in beta form next Wednesday is AIM Pages. When it goes live, you will be able to access AIM Pages at aimpages.com.
The service will allow AIM users to create personalized home pages (which will follow the naming convention www.aim.com/screenname). AIM Pages consist of modules like About Me, Photo and Buddy Gallery, User and Guest Comments, and Artist Videos and Music Feeds. AIM Buddy Lists will feature a symbol that indicates which buddies have recently updated their AIM pages.
Look for a full review of AIM Phoneline and AIM Pages when these services become available.