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AOL to Offer Free Inbound Calling

USA Today reports that AOL will introduce a service that gives any AIM user a free phone number for incoming calls.  Called AIM Phoneline, it will be the first service to offer a free phoneline.  AIM Phoneline Unlimited, at $14.95 per month, will add unlimited outgoing calls and long distance, to over $30 countries.  Cynthia Brumfield comments that this is an interesting development, something like Yahoo’s decision to offer a no-cost service with premium options.  And, according to TechNudge, it will be available by the end of the month

Analyst Charlene Li at market tracker Forrester Research thinks the young AIM crowd will be very receptive. "Who wouldn’t want a free phone number?" she says.

A couple of other highlights:

  • It will be integrated with AIM and AOL e-mail. A dial-pad will drop down at the bottom of the AIM Buddy List. Voice mail, also free, will show up as an e-mail with a link to click to hear the message.
  • AIM callers will get a reputation score. Users can click to tell the system if a caller is, say, an annoying telemarketer. That telemarketer will get a bad rep, which will show up whenever that caller dials. You can then choose to ignore the call.

So what are we really seeing here? AOL has recognized that the cost to provision the inbound leg of the call is minimal.  DID’s throughout the US can be had for 25 to 35 cents per month. The cost of the inbound traffic is the cost of a DS0 port — about $9 to $11/month. One has to assume that AOL can get better pricing than I’ve just given. Assuming a provisioning ratio of 10 to 1, the cost per user for AOL to do this shouldn’t be any higher than $1.15 per month.

Reputation, mash-ups with IM, and free access.  Welcome to the Voice 2.0 world. 

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