IM users to get free phone numbers from AOL

AOL is set to offer its instant-messaging users a free phone number to use for incoming calls, and, for a fee, the ability to call regular phones from the software, an Associated Press report said.

The report said this move brought AOL Instant Messenger, or AIM, closer in functionality to voice-oriented applications like eBay's Skype and so-called voice over Internet services from Vonage Holdings and others, the report said.

Skype last week reached 100 million registered users. AOL had 80 million registered users of AIM and ICQ, a similar program, the report said.

AIM began a decade ago as a text-based chat program and gradually added voice and video communication tools.

But without the ability to connect to the regular telephone network, AIM users were largely limited to conducting voice chats with one another, the report said.

AOL would start offering the free numbers this month. It would not be possible to move existing phone numbers to the service, the report said.