NEW YORK – Yahoo Inc. is entering a suddenly crowded field, offering Skype-like capabilities through its instant-messaging service that will let people dial regular phone numbers using their computers or receive calls from conventional phones.
The company has not set a firm date for the availability of the new paid features to the mostly free Yahoo Messenger service but indicated the launch was imminent.
Yahoo's addition of computer-to-phone capabilities follows a similar retooling of the rival AOL Instant Messenger service from Time Warner Inc. in October.
It also comes just as Skype is revamping its popular service with video calling, a feature that's been available through Yahoo Messenger for several years, though only for computer-to-computer calls.
In a similar vein, Sony Corp. introduced a free Internet-based phone service last month with an emphasis on visual calling that the company hopes will fuel sales of its video equipment.
Yahoo's new "Phone Out" option enables users to call regular and mobile phones for one cent per minute in the United States and two cents a minute to about 30 other countries, including calls to Argentina, Australia, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Korea.
On the flip side, users can sign up for a traditional phone number to receive unlimited calls to their computers from anywhere for a monthly fee of $3 or an annual payment of about $30.
The same services at Skype, which was acquired by Internet auctioneer eBay Inc. for $2.6 billion in October, are 2.3 cents per minute for computer-to-phone calls to about 25 countries including the United States, and about $35 a year for a SkypeIn phone number to receive calls.
Yahoo's upgrade also includes the addition of a contact search bar for its instant messenger window to make it easier to find people in their buddy lists by typing parts of a name or phone number.