Microsoft stops Windows Live VOIP services from July

Last year Microsoft announced that the existing VOIP partnership with Verizon would be terminating in 2008. Currently this service allows Windows Live Messenger users to call friends and family using regular landlines and mobile phones, but this functionality is set to expire over the next few months.

According to a Microsoft spokesperson, this service will terminate on the following dates:

  • EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) – July 15th 2008,
  • USA – August 31st 2008.

They confirmed that so far, no replacement service has been identified.

“Microsoft is actively investigating a successor to Verizon Web Calling in Windows Live Messenger in EMEA and the U.S. and hopes to offer the service again in the coming months. We apologize for the inconvenience to our customers.”

So what does this mean for Microsoft’s VOIP strategy? Its been disjointed, lacked development and made no visible progress over the past 2 years, and now we have the prospect of the service being discontinued indefinitely. However there is some hope on the horizon.

At the end of last month, Mary Jo Foley talked about a service codenamed Echoes. She explains how the different aspects of this project are expected to function with the help of network operators, in particular regarding the synchronising of contacts to and from all mobile devices, and enabling text message (SMS) to IM conversations. In addition parts of Echoes throw light on Microsoft’s own VOIP platform plans:

Step 1: “Echoes will assign a local mobile number to each Windows Live contact”

Step 5: “Voice calls can be connected through Echoes directly from the mobile to the Windows Live Messenger user’s PC”

Mary Jo mentioned this new functionality shipping with Windows Live Messenger v9 betas, following on from the TAP trials being undertaken in Europe and Asia over this summer. Swisscom and TeleNor are allegedly some of the EMEA partners, with trials in Asia rumoured to be using Starhub (#2) and M1 (#3). Anybody in these countries heard anything about the testing going on? If so drop us an email, we’d be interested to hear how what’s going on.

Given the expected v9 ship date of Q4 2008 however, it seems like a somewhat tall order for Microsoft to ship a working VOIP platform and cross-partner systems integration in just a few months. Echoes seems to be perhaps a more realistic aim for Windows Live Wave 4, which would mean Microsoft needs a stop-gap VOIP provider for the next 18 months. With only 1 month left to run in EMEA, anybody care to guess when the service comes back online?

(I couldn’t find any user stats for VOIP services except Skype, so its difficult to tell how many users will be affected by this.)