App developer Pinger launches voice calling

SAN FRANCISCO Tue Sep 28, 2010 7:01pm EDT

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - App developer Pinger is rolling out a new voice calling service for the iPod touch and iPhone, aiming to challenge Skype and others by offering free or low-cost phones calls.

Pinger, which is profitable and backed by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, has become one of the most successful of the startup app developers.

The company's Textfree app, which provides users with free phone numbers and texting services, has been downloaded from Apple's App Store more than 8 million times. More than 4 billion texts have been sent using Textfree, and the company has handed out more than 1.7 million phone numbers.

Pinger will start beta testing a new service that allows those phone numbers to be used to make calls using voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology. Calls can be made to any phone in the United States, and all inbound calls are free.

The service will primarily appeal to users of the WiFi-only iPod touch, allowing them to use it as a phone. The iPod touch is similar to an iPhone, only without the ability to connect to cellular networks.

Users earn voice minutes by downloading apps from other companies. For example, a free app in the App store might earn a user 12 minutes, while a 99-cent app might bring five times as many.

"The media age for our customers is 18, and that demographic, they don't pay for anything," said Pinger co-founder Joe Sipher, who said there will be hundreds of apps available through which to earn voice minutes.

Skype, which has filed for an initial public offering, offers its VoIP calling service through a subscription plan.

Sipher expects the voice service to nearly double Pinger's revenue, most of which comes from display ads. Sipher declined to provide revenue figures for Pinger.

However, the company is now serving 1.2 billion ad impressions per month. Given the prevailing ad rates, a conservative estimate would put the company's revenue at $1.2 million to $1.5 million per month.

(Reporting by Gabriel Madway; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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