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WSJ: IM phone international calls lack "voice quality"

In Thursday's Wall Street Journal, Personal Technology Columnist Sarmad Ali (filling in for the awesome Mr. Walt Mossberg) notes a recent test of Yahoo!

In Thursday's Wall Street Journal, Personal Technology Columnist Sarmad Ali (filling in for the awesome Mr. Walt Mossberg) notes a recent test of Yahoo! Messenger and MSN Messenger's calling capability.

The verdict? Passable at best.

Ali used the new SIP-enabled Yahoo! Messenger to call friends in Baghdad and Cairo, but, as he reports, "voices sounded grainy and loud static interrupted our conversatins often, even though we were all using a broadband Internet connection."

The unanticipated drop-offs were also an issue. "Every 40 minutes or so," Ali writes, his friends "signed out and reconnected to Yahoo! because we couldn't hear each other."

Lest you think this varying call quality had to do with the nature of telecommunications infrastructure in Cairo and Baghdad, Ali writes that when he used Yahoo! Messenger to call a friend in Stockhom, the voice quality was just as grainy.

MSN Messenger's shortcoming's were more capacity-related. Ali seems disappointed that only one other person could conference in at the same time and talk. Others could jump in, but could only text message.

The verdict, at least according to Ali?

"Both services are good for making calls, but they aren't set to replace phones just yet. The services connect only their own users, and don't even allow access to 911 in an emergency.

"Yet," Ali adds, "they are fine additions to existing IM-text chatting services- and it's hard to beat free calls."