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September 20, 2005

AOL Readies VoIP Service, AIM Overhaul

Courtesy of TechWeb News

America Online Inc. on Tuesday said it planned to release this week a preview edition of Triton, a major overhaul of the company's popular instant-messaging service, and unveiled a new Internet-telephony service that would be available next month.

Triton, which is currently in beta, is a reengineering of the AIM client with a new code base and architecture that adds advanced communication services, such as real-time voice and video. Along with instant messaging, Triton also sends email and text messages to mobile phones.

Internet telephony has become a major focus among portals, including Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN. Also called voice over Internet protocol, the technology could eventually provide a single communications platform for voicemail, email, instant messaging. Such a platform could build customer loyalty and help keep subscribers. In addition, it could be integrated with other services. AOL, Yahoo and MSN currently connect IM to online music and other services.

Triton will include an improved version of AOL's PC-to-PC voice communications service. The new version will support multi-party calling for up to 20 people, and a video instant-messaging client with a larger screen.

During its official launch later this year, Triton is expected to also feature PC-to-phone communications through a new service code-named AIM Talk Plus. The upgrade will be rolled out across the AIM network as a system-wide auto-upgrade. The preview edition set for release this week will be available through the AOL Web site, or the company's beta site. The preview only runs on Windows XP.

AOL is the clear leader in instant messaging with 41.6 million subscribers. In comparison, Yahoo, which has the second largest network, has less than half the subscribers of AIM at 19.1 million, according to web metrics firm ComScore Networks. MSN has 14.1 million subscribers.

In a separate announcement, Dulles, Va.-based, AOL said it planned to release on Oct. 4 a new VoIP service called TotalTalk. The service targets people looking to replace their traditional telephone service with VoIP over a broadband connection.

The service is available to non-AOL subscribers. Until TotalTalk, AOL's Internet Phone service was limited to subscribers of the portal's paid service.

TotalTalk includes phone features such as call waiting, caller ID, 911 emergency calling and voicemail integrated with email. A web-based console is provided for managing call features, such as on-screen call alerts, call-forwarding preferences and at-a-glance logs of incoming and outgoing calls. In addition, text alerts can be sent to mobile devices when a voicemail is left.

Pricing starts at $18.99 a month for a local plan, $29.99 a month for a unlimited calling plan and $34.99 a month for a global calling plan.

While Triton contains some VoIP features, it won't offer a full-service telephone services like TotalTalk. Nevertheless, the addition of PC-to-phone calling indicates some type of convergence is possible.

"You can see where we heading," an AOL spokeswoman said.

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