Skype, Vonage Calls Made by 24% of Web Users: Pew

Almost one-quarter of U.S. Web users have made a phone call via the Web with Skype, Vonage or some other VOIP service, according to Pew Internet.

A new report from Pew Internet sheds some light on why Microsoft felt it necessary to pay $8.5 billion for voice over IP giant Skype this month.

Nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of U.S. adult Web users, or 19 percent of all American adults, have made calls online using Skype, Vonage or some other VOIP service, the research organization said May 30. Some 5 percent of Web users are making calls online on any given day.

Pew cobbled its findings from calling and polling 2,277 adults aged 18 and over from April 26 to May 22, 2011.

Pew Director Lee Rainie said the new stats show marked increases in VOIP use from surveys the research organization conducted in the past, particularly among affluent, urban and younger users.

For example, in February 2007, Pew found that 8 percent of Web users had placed calls online and 2 percent of Web users were making calls on any given day.

"At various points during the 2000s, we asked similar questions and found that at most about a tenth of Internet users had ever used the Internet to place calls and the daily figure never rose above 1 percent of Internet users," Rainie wrote in the report.

Pew attributed the general pickup in VOIP consumption to a few trends; calls from Skype and other services are free domestically, and low-cost internationally; VOIP is available on PCs, smartphones and tablet computers; and more meetings and classroom activities use VOIP calling with video.

So there are clearly consumer and business-user scenarios for VOIP.

What's interesting about this survey is that Rainie and his researchers specifically referred to Skype, for which Microsoft plunked down a 10x premium, based on Skype's 2010 sales of $860 million.

Skype, which has over 600 million registered accounts, compared with 160 million active users, has become a business division within Microsoft, led by Skype CEO Tony Bates. Bates will be tasked with ensuring Skype is blended with Microsoft Lync, Office 365 and Xbox Live, among other products.

Many analysts also believe Microsoft will use the Skype platform to generate traffic across Windows-based PCs, Windows Phone handsets and home entertainment systems.