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Dialing over the net represents the future of consumer voice calls, but shortcomings still affect some popular services, according to a new report.

Making calls over the internet is far cheaper than conventional voice calls and becoming more popular as the use of broadband rises, prompting Computing Which? to put several services to the test. The Consumer Association magazine looked at six free internet phone services: Skype, Yahoo! Messenger, Sipgate X-Lite, Google Talk (trial), MSN Messenger, and Babble.net.

The services all offer the ability to call other PC users with the same software without charge. They also commonly offer the ability to make cheap rate calls to landline numbers. Computing Which? looked at how easy it was to set up these services, their effectiveness, and their range of features.

Skype scored high marks for its easy set-up and "exceptional voice clarity". Meanwhile, Yahoo! Messenger won plaudits for its range of features including the option of landline calls, webcam chats, instant messaging, voicemail, and conference calls.

Google Talk, however, was criticised by the Which? team for shortcomings to its audio wizard that mean audio level indicators only kick in once a call has been initiated. And Babble was let down by its "poor help files and software bugs".

"Using your PC as a phone can be so cheap – often even free – that pricey landline and mobile bills could be in danger of becoming extinct. With mobile phone services entering the broadband market, VoIP looks set to be the choice of the future," Computing Which? editor Jessica Ross said. ®

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