Internet calling service Skype plans a public “beta” test of a group video chat function that will allow five people to simultaneously participate in a video call .

The free feature  launches next week, but Skype Ltd. plans to start charging for it along with some other upcoming features in the next three to four months, according to  Neil Stevens, general manager of Skype’s consumer business segment. He says that group video chat will  be available first to those who use Skype on Windows PCs. A Mac version should be out later this year.

Skype  already offers such free services as the ability to make voice or video calls and send instant messages to other Skype users. Users pay for other services such as making calls from a PC  to a landline or cell phone.

Skype is also expanding its monthly subscription offerings to include calls to both cell phones and landlines in more than 170 countries. As of now, subscription plans include one that allows calls to over 40 countries, but they only to  landlines. The suspected reason behind this is that it is generally cheaper than routing calls from the Internet to cell phones.

Skype plans to unveil new subscriptions that let users choose which (of 170)countries they want to call and whether they want to call landlines and cell phones or just one of the two claiming that this will bring down the costs of Skype-enabled Internet calls even further.The new plans  will launch Thursday. According to Skype, the plans, which start at $1.09 a month and offer call rates as low as 1 cent per minute to any of the 170 countries, come in one-month, three-month and 12-month calling increments and 60-minute to unlimited time increments. Skype claims the plans will save users as much as 60 percent of what they pay for Skype’s existing Pay As You Go rates.

We at the Cosmic Networks have already taken advantage of Skype’s recent subscription plans allowing us to call unlimited to cell and land lines anywhere in the U.S. and Canada for just $2.95/month. This bargain is working out very well for us.

Tell us what you think about this and we will keep you up with further details about any plans that Skype introduces in the weeks to come.

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