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BT invites Second Life users to AvaTalk

The company is exploring demand for virtual-to-real-world communications via a one-month trial of its free phone and texting service
Written by Tim Ferguson, Contributor

BT is upping its presence in Second Life with a trial of its free AvaTalk phone and texting service.

The one-month virtual-world pilot will start on 26 March and allow users to make 10 free calls (of up to one hour each) and send 10 SMS messages to almost anywhere in the world.

Users will be able to use their avatars to access the service at red BT phone boxes at five locations or by picking up a heads-up display that can then be used beyond these locations.

BT built a private island in Second Life called "Area 21" last September where it showed off demos of its virtual-world technology, including AvaTalk.

Matt Brotherton, project manager at the Applied Technology Centre in BT's chief technology office, told ZDNet.co.uk sister site silicon.com: "What we wanted to do after [Area 21] was launch elements of that as a trial service, just to understand what the demand for virtual-to-real-world communications and also virtual-to-other-virtual-world communication is."

He added: "What we've been able to do is open it up completely, so Second Life users can call and send SMS to anyone else in the world. For Second Life users, it's quite compelling."

AvaTalk uses BT's global IP platform, Web21C, to carry calls and transmit SMS messages to mobile networks around the world.

When asked about the benefits of AvaTalk over other free VoIP services, such as Skype, Brotherton said: "It really comes down to the rich immersiveness of virtual worlds."

He added: "We're looking into how virtual-world environments can provide real business benefits to our enterprise, corporate and SME customers, from the perspective of providing collaborative environments internally but also as new channels to their customers."

Brotherton added that, as people are able to do more things within Second Life, the service allows them to make calls and send texts without leaving the virtual world.

Brotherton said other organisations who are interested in hosting an AvaTalk hub should contact BT once the trial has begun.

Brotherton said the trial will help BT understand how people are using the service and how viable it might be as a product in the future.

He added: "Our testbed has been Second Life, but we're very much interested in virtual worlds as a whole."

The five partners hosting AvaTalk on their islands are Idearium, Italy Island Resort, Nuova Sicilia, Style Magazine and Venice Italy.

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