NEW YORK – Sony Corp. on Wednesday announced a free Internet-based phone service similar to the popular computer-to-computer calling provided by Skype, but with an emphasis on video conferencing.
Called IVE for "Instant Video Everywhere," the service relies on Windows-based software that can be downloaded from the Internet. It will also ship with Sony's new line of Vaio BX laptops, which feature built-in video cameras.
Like Skype, IVE also will feature a premium service that lets users dial traditional wireline phones and cell phones from their computers. The monthly fee of $9.95 for the premium service includes a 10-digit phone number so IVE users can receive calls from regular and mobile phones.
The service, created in collaboration with GlowPoint Inc., marks the latest attempt at delivering a "picture phone" for the consumer market.
The concept, first introduced by AT&T Corp. at the 1964 World's Fair and unsuccessfully marketed in the seventies, reappeared during the dot-com era as high-speed Internet connections made live video connections accessible to a wide audience.
While Internet portals such as Yahoo Inc. and Time Warner Inc.'s AOL have long offered a video option with their instant-messaging services, few users have availed themselves of them.
More recently, Skype Technologies SA has been promising to introduce a video version of its hugely popular voice service by the end of 2005.
In fact, in a separate announcement Wednesday, a company named Yak Communications Inc. also launched a free Internet calling service that incorporates video.
Sony's alliance with Hillside, N.J.-based Glowpoint expands on an Internet video-conferencing service for business that the companies launched in June to complement Sony's equipment.
This doesn't mean that Sony Electronics wants to be a telephone company.
"We are a manufacturing company that sells hardware ... we're not going to become a voice telephony provider," said Eric Murphy, vice president of video conferencing at Sony Electronics.