In a attempt to steal the march on rival NTL, BT is offering a free national calls for a year with new subscriptions to it broadband services.

Crucially, the offer is open only until 31 December 2004 – therefore closing just before NTL begins offering its new, faster broadband packages in the New Year.

The first 50,000 customers to sign up to a BT package between now and Hogmanay will receive a BT Communicator – VoIP (voice over internet protocol) software which will allow them to make calls, via their PC, down the broadband line.

Calls to phones within the UK made using the software will then be given free of charge – though non-geographical numbers (0845, premium rate numers and so on) are not included in the deal.

Once the offer expires, users can still make calls to a landline or mobile from their computer but for the same cost as a phone call on their BT Together fixed line phone package.

In addition, VoIP calls to other VoIP-enabled computers around the world will be free (though this is normal for VoIP communication, and nothing to do with the offer).

Customers who might be swinging between BT and NTL’s offers will have to decide whether they would prefer faster broadband speeds, or the saving of a year’s free calls. NTL’s broadband packages offer around twice the download speed of similarly priced BT packages.

However, if successful, BT’s offer may help to push VoIP into the mainstream, which could eventually have an effect on all our phone bills. As more and more people start making free PC-to-PC calls, land-line offerings may well have to drop to remain competitive.

“BT has led the way in taking VoIP technology into the mainstream with the launch of the first mass market product BT Communicator with Yahoo! Messenger,” says Gavin Patterson, BT’s Consumer and Ventures Group MD. “Now we plan to encourage as many of our customers as possible to properly experience this new converged world of communications through this fantastic offer.”