AOL Launches IM, VOIP Tools

ISP rolls out its new VOIP service and offers a preview of its next-generation instant messaging platform, code-named Triton.

BOSTON—American Online Inc. announced its new Internet phone service and offered a preview of its newest instant messaging platform at the ongoing VON conference here on Tuesday.

Dubbed as TotalTalk, the VOIP (Voice over IP) offering will be built into Triton, the next generation version of the companys instant messaging client software, a beta version of which was also introduced by AOL. The calling service, which will launch on Oct. 4, will feature both PC-to-PC calling capabilities as well as PC-to-phone calling via Triton.

According to AOL, the TotalTalk service, which only works via broadband connectivity, will offer roughly 40 percent savings over traditional landline calling plans, along the same lines as existing services from VOIP specialists such as Skype Technologies, which was purchased by online auction giant eBay earlier this month.

The Dulles, Va.-based ISP said that existing AOL Internet Phone customers will be upgraded to TotalTalk, and, as with its current IM offering, the firm wont require users to buy a subscription to its Internet access services in order to utilize the application.

AOL has offered Internet calling technology for the last two years, but company representatives framed TotalTalk as a far more powerful system. While the existing AOL tools feature only PC-to-PC calling, TotalTalk will allow AOLs IM users to connect with people using traditional handsets.

When someone signs up for TotalTalk, they receive a telephone adapter that allows them to begin using the service with their existing phones. AOL representatives said it should take most people about 15 minutes to set up the equipment and begin calling. The system also can also be accessed using a so-called "soft phone" or computer-based VOIP dialing software built into Triton that allows them to make and answer phone calls on their residential phone lines.

AOL announced three different pricing plans for TotalTalk, starting at $18.99 per month for its local plan, which offers domestic long distance for 39 cents per minute. An unlimited calling plan will be available for $29.99 per month, which includes domestic long distance throughout the U.S. and Canada. The company will provide a global calling plan for $34.99 per month that includes domestic long distance and international rates that the firm has yet to detail.

Along with calling capabilities, people who sign up for the service will receive access to voice mail and call management tools and have the ability to make and receive calls on any line that has access to its instant messaging client. Additional features include call waiting, caller ID, 911 access, integrated voicemail access via e-mail, and three-way conference calling.

The TotalTalk system features a central dashboard Web page that offers onscreen call alerts, call forwarding tools, call logs, frequently used numbers lists, click-to-call dialing, and an integrated contact address book. The company said that the system will allow users to retrieve both voice and e-mail messages from any touchtone phone or Web browser, as well as give customers the option to forward message alerts to mobile devices via short messaging service, or SMS, technology.

/zimages/6/28571.gifE-mail security vendor Postini has extended its hosted security service to include IM. Click here to read more.

Using the dashboard, people can block calls and program messages to incoming callers telling them that they are temporarily unavailable or on another line. The interface also allows users to ban calls from certain numbers, either temporarily or permanently. Another interesting aspect of the service is that it also gives consumers the ability to program multiple calls through one landline, as long as one caller is using a PC and the other has the call sent to their traditional phone.

As part of the announcement, AOL said it has signed on three new partners—Pingtel, Global IP Sound, and On2—to improve audio quality, and provide additional technologies both voice and video conferencing capabilities.

The company also used the conference to launch a preview edition of its new AIM Triton service, which it is making available for download at its Web site. In testing since April, the IM client is aimed at providing an integrated interface for messaging, e-mail and the TotalTalk service. The package also offers SMS mobile text messaging capabilities and a number of other voice and streaming video features.

Among the specific improvements promised in the package is a more sophisticated contact management interface, some of which is powered by Plaxo, a software maker that specializes in such tools.

"We have rebuilt the AIM service from the ground up to make it a powerful communications tool that offers unprecedented versatility," Chamath Palihapitiya, vice president at AOL, said in a statement. "Our goal is to let people focus on who they want to talk to and what they want to say, instead of worrying about which software application they need to open."

The preview edition of Triton also promises an expanded buddy list, a redesigned programming screen, a more robust file transfer feature, and access to AOL radio stations. The tool has a feature that allows users to print contact information on their buddy lists to documents or mailing labels, and adds revised away messages.

Within its messaging window, the system features a new feature dubbed as Quicknote that replaces AOLs traditional IM presentation to include a snapshot of contact information for each person that sends a user a message. The tool also has a new tab interface meant to help users manage multiple IM conversations at once. Triton adds expanded security features as well, specifically tools for blocking messages from unknown senders and for blocking IM-borne viruses.

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