Skype, Vapps Team for Free Conference Calling

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Users of Skype's Internet telephony service can now create free conference calling with up to 500 participants on each call under a new service offered with VoIP vendor Vapps, the companies said today.

The two companies on Thursday launched, where Skype users can sign up for free conference rooms. Conference-call participants can also use traditional landline telephones to join the Skype conferences, but long-distance charges may apply. For Skype users, there are no fees, the companies said.

SkypeOut and In

Last month, Skype announced that all SkypeOut calls to landline and mobile phones within the U.S. and Canada will be free. The company hopes the free calling in those countries will expand Skype's penetration in North America, and will attract more people to Skype's premium products and services, Skype said.

Skype offers SkypeIn, a pay service that allows users of landline and mobile phones to call in to a Skype phone. The company also offers a variety of VoIP-related hardware, some of it targeted toward small-business users. With hardware partners, Skype sells a speakerphone, a box that converts traditional phones to Skype phones, and a converter box for multiple users.

The new conferencing service appears to be targeted toward small and medium-sized business users, as Skype looks to gain market share in that area, said Rebecca Swensen, a VoIP services analyst with IDC.

"Doing this helps them gain some market share in the market for enterprises and small businesses," Swensen said. "I'm sure Skype is trying to get them to see that using Skype in their sales departments is a lot cheaper that [traditional] telephone service."

Vapps, in Hoboken, New Jersey, is a supplier of VOIP conference-calling services and software focusing on the SMB market.

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