If the telephone industry receives a collect call from Yahoo!
Dubbed Yahoo! Messenger with Voice, the service enhances Yahoo!'s already popular IM platform with nifty features that will allow it to compete in the suddenly crowded voice-over-Internet-protocol (VoIP) space.
Users with a broadband connection and a microphone-enabled computer will be able to make outgoing calls to landline and mobile-phone users for as little as $0.02 a minute. They will also be able to pay $2.99 a month -- or $29.90 a year -- to acquire a personal phone number and receive incoming calls at that number through their online connection at no additional charge.
In the end, this is just more trouble for the traditional phone industry, and even more reason to worry about Vonage's upcoming IPO.
Some may argue that Skype and Yahoo! premium voice services are shackled by requiring users to be tethered to their online connections. Vonage is also broadband-based, but uses a standalone telephone adapter to make the process appear practically seamless.
However, let's dig into the local and long-distance calling markets. This is an industry full of big names like AT&T
SkypeIn and Yahoo! Phone In services are far cooler than you think. Let's say you moved to Boston from Paris. You still have plenty of friends and family in France, and the long-distance bills can add up in a hurry. Through the Phone In offering, you can live in Boston but pay $29.90 a year to get a Parisian telephone number. That way, your Paris-based buds can ring you up as if it were a local call.
This element of Web-enabled telephony is just starting to catch on. Skype is still seen as mostly a way for folks to communicate for free with other online Skype users. That will change as the service gradually goes mainstream; it will mean more pain for the traditional players and more gain for these fortunate upstarts.
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a frequent Yahoo! visitor but he has yet to use the company's voice service. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story.The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.