O2 scored a huge advantage over its rivals in Britain when it became the first operator to offer Apple’s iPhone there. The firm has previously said it expected its new internet offering to let it lead the international calling market.
O2 said the new service, which follows its acquisition of the voice over internet protocol (VoIP) company Jajah six months ago, launched in Germany on Thursday. It plans to extend the service to its other European markets in the months ahead.
Customers using the new O2 Global Friends service will be able to make international calls by dialling a local number. They can choose five friends who are abroad and receive a local number for each of them, which they can call at any time.
In Germany, the service will require a one-time activation fee of 5 euros ($6.41) and customers can make international calls for 15 cents per minute.
Mobile operators have for a long time viewed internet voice services such as Skype, which routes calls over the internet to reduce fees to consumers, as a threat to their core telephone business.
But some including Hutchison Whampoa’s 3 and Verizon Wireless have offered internet calls on their networks with an eye to attracting customers and making money through the contracts and data plans.
High-tech communications consultancy Juniper Research expects the number of mobile VoIP users to exceed 100 million by 2012, it said in a recent report.
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