Two Internet telephone services debut today with unusual business approaches, hoping to stand out in an increasingly crowded market with intense price competition.
Lycos, the Internet portal owned by Spanish telecommunications company Telefonica, is launching a Windows-based program that provides free calls to phones when the user signs up for offers for credit cards or Netflix's DVD service. The software also shows banner ads.
Users who don't accept the offers will pay 1 cent a minute for domestic calls when they exhaust their initial 100 free minutes. The Lycos Phone application also offers movie previews, PC-to-PC video calling and text messaging.
The other new service seeks to simplify Internet calling, which works by breaking voice calls into data packets just like e-mail, sending them over the Internet and reassembling them into sound at the recipient's end.
Roman Scharf co-founded Jajah, a company that released for-fee PC-to-phone calling software last summer. He soon found that users were attracted to the service only because it was inexpensive.
So the company decided to compete by making it simpler to place calls. Users go to Jajah's website and enter their own number and the one to be called. The company rings the caller's number, and after the user picks up, it dials the other number. If the call is answered, Jajah connects the two lines.
There's no need to install software or get a microphone for the computer, and it's not restricted to Windows. The call goes from phone to phone, with Jajah's site and the Internet as the intermediary. Domestic U.S. calls cost about 1.7 cents a minute. A U.S.-France call costs 1.9 cents.
A beta, or trial, version of the site has been up since early February.
The services add to a competitive field. Last week, Yahoo Inc. officially added a dial-out capability for U.S. users of Yahoo Messenger, matching a feature of EBay Inc.'s Skype software.