AOL is soon to stage a limited launch of its new VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) service in a bid to bring packet-based calling technology to the mass market.

The service, called AOL Internet Phone Service, will use the "buddy list" used in the AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) service to show a subscriber whether friends or associates are currently available.

It will be rolled out first to AOL members in limited locations and over time made available to the mass market, Miller said, without providing more details.

The entry of AOL would bring one of the biggest companies associated with consumer internet service into the US VoIP market. A company spokesperson has said that, while research shows consumer awareness and use of VoIP is still low, over time, AOL hopes to draw upon its experience in popularising the Internet for ordinary consumers.

As with the company's internet service, ease of use will be key. No AOL product should come with instructions, and if it has to have instructions, "there can't be any more than three things you have to do," the spokesperson said.

Customers will be able to use their existing phones through an adapter that links them in to their broadband routers.

With the addition of the VoIP service, the AIM service over time will become a "dashboard" that subscribers can use to move easily between email, instant messaging and voice calls.