America Online Inc. announced Tuesday it will offer a new VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) service starting Oct. 4, entering a heated race for Internet-based telephone services.
The service, called TotalTalk, will enable calls to be made through a user's computer in addition to using their regular telephone hardware by connecting a telephone line along with a cable or digital-subscriber modem to a broadband router. Users do not need to have AOL as their Internet provider, according to a company press release.
TotalTalk will be "a little bit of a paradigm shift for telephone service" for subscribers, as it will allow the mobility to take a phone line anywhere, said Anne Bentley, an AOL spokeswoman. Through its new AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) software code-named Triton, users will be able to answer calls to their home phone from other computers, forward calls to their cell phones and direct them to their voicemail.
The service's "dashboard" feature will integrate its messenger and dialing software along with voicemail, Bentley said.
Computer-to-computer calls -- a feature of AIM since 2000 -- will continue to be free. However, the new Triton software allows for calls to land lines or mobile phones -- whether local or international -- and priced according three subscriber plans.
AOL's Local Plan at US$18.99 per month allows for unlimited local calls and long distance for $0.039 per minute. Unlimited long distance within the U.S. and Canada will be $29.99 a month under the Unlimited Calling Plan. A third option, the Global Calling Plan, includes unlimited domestic long distance for $34.99 a month and international calls at "low" rates, according to a company press release. Prices of the three plans exclude taxes and additional fees, it said.
A preview version of Triton, which requires Windows XP, will be released later this week, according to AOL spokeswoman Cindy Harvey. Current subscribers to AOL Internet Phone, the company's first version of VOIP services that also uses a broadband router, will be upgraded to the new TotalTalk service, according to an AOL release.
The software phone feature will be accessible through AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) Talk to TotalTalk subscribers. Calls can be made through a personal computer using a headset or USB (Universal Serial Bus) phone, as it features a dialpad, Bentley said.
Voicemail can be retrieved using AIM or a touchtone phone. Additionally, SMS alerts can be sent to mobile devices if a voicemail is left. Other features of the software include call waiting, caller ID, emergency 911 service, three-way calling and use of so-called "star codes."
AIM users who do not opt for TotalTalk will still be able to use AIM Talk.