BT on hold as internet calls near 2 million

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Nearly two million British adults have used their computers to make phone calls in the past year, a new survey estimates. And use of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony is set to grow, with another 1.9 million non-users likely to adopt the technology within a year.

Skype, the VoIP software company which was bought by online auction site eBay for $5bn (£2.9bn) last year, was the most used service.

The report from Continental Research, based on interviews with 3,000 adults, found that 48 per cent of the VoIP calls made from the UK last year used Skype.

The next most popular service was Microsoft's MSN Messenger, with a fifth of all calls, followed by US company Vonage's service (6 per cent), BT (6 per cent) and Wanadoo (2 per cent). Most VoIP calls are free to other computer owners, as long as the recipients of the call use the same software. Calls to different VoIP providers, landlines and mobile phones are chargeable at rates of around 2p per minute.

James Myring, the associate director of Continental Research, acknowledged that Skype, as one of the earliest VoIP providers, has a big "first mover" advantage. But "BT has huge potential to roll out VoIP to customers on a large scale", he said. "It will be concerned about losing market share from its fixed line business. For BT, it might be a case of compete or lose."

According to the survey, 56 per cent of those with VoIP expect to increase their usage. Mr Myring said: "VoIP usage is admittedly growing from a relatively small base. But as utility bills increase, people will be looking at how they can cut down on their monthly outgoings."