Skype is extending its offer of free services to include audio conferences for up to 500 parties as a way to lure more businesses into Skype use.
In conjunction with conferencing service provider Vapps, Skype is enabling conferencing that can include other Skype users but also people connecting over the public phone network.
According to Vapps, the host of the conference sends each participant an e-mail that includes an Internet link to a bridge for that call and information about when the call starts. For those who don't have Skype, the e-mail includes a phone number to dial in to.
Vapps uses its network-based bridging gear to connect all the parties. The conference is not peer-to-peer.
This Vapps conferencing is in addition to earlier peer-to-peer Skype capabilities to conference up to five parties, all of whom must be using Skype.
Last month, Skype introduced another free service that lets North American Skype users make phone calls to phones on the North American public phone network. This offer is good until the end of the year, and is intended to be a way to attract more people to Skype services. According to Vapps, there is no time limit set on how long the conferencing service will be free.
Vapps says it partnered with Skype in hopes people who used the free service would pay for related services such as recording the conferences, playing them back and operator support of the calls. The company also makes money on calls into the bridge from the public phone network via a mechanism similar to 900 numbers.
This offer will put pressure on other VOIP providers that charge for conferencing services to either offer free basic conferencing themselves or to lower their prices. They might also bundle basic services with enhancements at a cut rate.