AIM Call out
VoIP is gaining popularity everyday due to the low monthly rates and virtually unlimited areas you can call to. AOL has had several forays into the VoIP arena, but hopes their new AIM Call Out will be the one that will stick.
AIM Call Out is a new outbound pay-per-use service from AOL that allows AIM users to bridge two PSTN numbers that appear on the AIM dashboard. According to a post by Tom Keating at VoIP & Gadgets blog, AOL’s technical manager Gavin Murphy said, “This is an outbound-only pay-as-you-go product used through the AIM 6.5 or later client. We provide competitive rates to over 200 countries. Also included is our WebConnect feature that allows you to bridge two PSTN phone numbers through an interface on the Dashboard. The Dashboard also provides lots of handy features like a Call Log with click-to-call capabilities, and access to your AIM Address Book contacts.”
To use AIM Call Out users buy credits in $10 or $25 increments, which appear in the AIM dashboard. Then it’s just a matter of entering your phone number and the number you want to call. The rate for the call appears on the dashboard so you can gauge how much it’s going to cost versus how much time you’re going to talk. Users also have the option of setting up Auto Refill, which tops off their credit when it drops to a dollar or less.
When using Web Connect to place calls globally, the caller will have to pay the rate of the country they’re calling, PLUS their own rate. To be fair, the rates currently listed on the AOL calling map are very reasonable and users can alleviate this by engaging in PC-to-PC calling, which is free.
The big advantage for AOL in bringing out AIM Call Out is that millions of people around the world are already AIM users, which makes for a substantial installed user-base that can be easily tapped. Depending how AOL markets this service, it could be a huge boost in revenue now that dialup Internet is in decline.
However, AOL is at a disadvantage right out of the gate because they charge for bridging two numbers when using their Web Connect feature. Call Out’s big competitor, JaJah offers free calls between JaJah users.
Another downside to AOL’s AIM Call Out is that Mac users are left out in the dark, whereas Skype offers Mac compatibility, and JaJah is a platform independent, browser based product. Granted, this isn’t a huge issue for AOL as there are far more Windows users worldwide than there are Mac users. Still, with AOL being a shadow of the company they once were during the early days of the web, you’d think they’d do everything they could to bring as many people into the fold as possible.
Time will tell whether AIM Call Out will be a player or merely an also-ran. Right now, they’ve got a hill to climb because the VoIP revolution started without AOL, and they’re going to have to play catch up. Clearly, their first priority is to target the huge, installed base of AIM users. AOL will need to convert them before they go after their direct competition.