Microsoft has set group video calling on Skype free, allowing users to conduct virtual face-to-face chats without paying extra.
The software giant announced on April 28 that group video sessions are now enabled for users of the free version of Skype on Windows, Mac and Xbox One. In the past, the feature was available only to users of the paid Skype Premium service.
Users of the company's mobile apps will have to wait a bit longer. "And, in the future, we'll be enabling group video calling for all our users across more platforms—at no cost," informed Phillip Snalune, general manager of Skype consumer marketing, in a blog post.
The move will also have an effect on how Skype plans are branded. Before now, Skype Premium offered perks including group video calling, unlimited calls and screen sharing. On the Skype Premium homepage, Microsoft stated that since "group video calls are free for everyone, we've removed Premium to give it a refresh."
Skype is now referring users to its subscription plans. "But don't worry, you can still call phones worldwide at great low rates," said Snalune.
Currently, users can opt for an unlimited or limited subscription or pay-as-you-go Skype Credits. Unlimited and limited plans allow users to call landlines and in some cases mobile numbers. Limited plan customers can purchase time in buckets of 60, 120, 400 or 800 minutes per month that do not carry over. Skype offers phone number subscriptions for incoming calls from landlines and mobile phones.
The move could help Microsoft on its campaign to make the already-popular voice over IP (VoIP) and video conferencing platform even more ubiquitous. The software giant acquired Skype and its hundreds of millions of users for a whopping $8.5 billion in 2011. Skype now ships as part of the standard bundle of apps included with Windows 8.1 and the Xbox One console and will soon be included in the Windows 8.1 update.
Targeting TV broadcasters, the company unveiled its new Skype TX product earlier this month. Based on technology from the recent acquisition of Skype specialist Cat and Mouse, the software streamlines the process of incorporating multiple high-definition Skype video sessions into television production workflows.
In March, the company switched on Outlook video calls for Outlook.com users worldwide via a browser plug-in. Users can start video conferences directly from their inboxes without launching Skype software.
Microsoft is also targeting business users. Last year, the company added Skype support to its Lync enterprise communications platform. The integration allows Lync users to more seamlessly communicate with customers, partners and colleagues, and vice versa.
"Lync-Skype connectivity removes barriers created by the rules of different devices, applications and networks that keep people from connecting seamlessly on the devices they use most," said Giovanni Mezgec, general manager of Lync, in a May 29, 2013, statement.