British Telecom has announced an unmetered voice-over-IP service to run in parallel with its flat-rate Internet access service, SurfTime.

The new SurfTalk will be restricted to PCs endowed with SurfTalk software, which can only be downloaded by SurfTime subscribers.

In other words voice calls over the Internet will be restricted to the UK and only users of the SurfTime unmetered service will be able to participate.

Nevertheless in rare display of generosity BT will offer the service free for the first three months for customers signing up by 13 November.

The interface will work along similar lines to Instant messaging.

Users of the service get a pop up window on their screens with the name of the caller, which they can then elect to take.

They can also be notified when SurfTime ‘buddies’ are online and ready for a call.

To use the service subscribers will require a microphone and sound card.

Industry watchers were sceptical following the announcement.

While PC to PC voice over IP calls have been around for a while, the quality of the calls are notoriously bad. Though interruptions to a call make little difference when sending a fax, many resent having to repeat their last sentence when engaging in a conversation.

Some have compared fans of voice over IP to CB radio enthusiasts in the 1970s, who were happy to while away many hours in their garden sheds communicating with fellow hobbyists named Rubber Duck and Silver Fox.