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Skype Promises Super-Cheap Subscriptions, Group Video Chat

New subscription plans cover 170 countries and offer call rates as low as 1 cent per minute to any of those countries.

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The new subscription plans cover 170 countries and will launch Thursday. According to Skype, the plans, which start at $1.09 a month and offer call rates as low as 1 cent per minute to any of the 170 countries, come in one-month, three-month and 12-month calling increments and 60-minute to unlimited time increments. Skype claims the plans will save users as much as 60 percent of what they pay for Skype's existing Pay As You Go rates.

Skype users have been asking for customized subscription plans that reflect how often they use the service, according to the company. Under the new plans, users can preselect countries they want to call, what types of devices -- mobile phones or landlines or both -- they want to call, and then what subscription plan to buy into.

"Skype's new monthly subscriptions lower the cost of international calling and make it simple to choose the plan that best meets your needs," said Neil Stevens, general manager of Skype's consumer business unit, in a statement. "People around the world can now have the simplicity and flexibility to call almost any phone in the world for less."

On Wednesday, the Associated Press also reported that Skype is planning to launch a group video chat feature for Skype through which as many as five Skype users will be able to participate in a simultaneous video call. The feature will be free at launch, according to what Skype's Stevens told the AP, but Skype will start charging for it in a few months.

The group video chat will be available to Windows PC users first, Stevens added, and a Mac version is on the way for later in the year.

Skype is still viewed primarily as a consumer VoIP and video service, but the company has made inroads into enterprise business, too, and is in recruitment mode for partners as part of a slowly-rolling-out formal value-added channel program.

The dominant players in the videoconferencing channel have eyed Skype with equal parts curiosity and suspicion, especially as various unified communications and networking vendors embrace Skype integration for their products.

According to TeleGeography Research, Skype calls now account for about 12 percent of all international calls. Many observers see the lines between consumer and business-centric networking tools continuing to blur as Skype's video- and VoIP-centric features become more sophisticated.

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