Two new cordless home phones from major electronics makers that went on sale May 8 come preloaded with the latest test version of the instant messenger, MSN Messenger, Microsoft said.
The Win 1200 home phone from manufacturer Uniden and the VOIP433 phone from Royal Philips Electronics are both capable of making Internet phone calls via MSN Messenger.
Both phones are now for sale, Microsoft said. The Uniden is $99 and available at Best Buy.
That means that once connected to the Internet, MSN Messenger users can pick up their phones and call each other for free. They can also call cell phones or traditional landlines for a few pennies a minute through a relationship Microsoft has with No. 2 local phone service provider Verizon Communications, of New York City.
The alchemy Microsoft is seeking here involves VOIP (voice over IP), a freely-available software for making phone calls using an Internet connection.
VOIP is considered a burgeoning industry. There are about 1.5 million VOIP users now, but that will blossom in 2010 to about 18 million, or about $4 billion a year in revenue, some analysts believe.
The expected growth is largely from major U.S. cable operators that are now using Internet phone services to battle major telephone operators.
The new, beta version of MSN Messenger also comes laden with other VOIP improvements, including video calling (which requires a Web cam) and an arrangement available to call cell or landlines in 11 countries for a few pennies a minute. The older MSN test version was restricted to a half dozen nations.
But the Uniden and Philips phones are perhaps the most important of the lot. Internet telephony is usually restricted to the PC, where it's a growing success, but at the same time constricting its potential audience by requiring a PC.
The same leap has been made by more established Internet phone players, including Vonage Holdings, of Holmdel, N.J., and Skype, a division eBay, of San Jose, Calif., but not others.
So Microsoft's move brings it inline with these firms, which are among the top in the industry in terms of subscribers and minutes of phone calls served up.