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Skype Prepping Group Video Chat

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Video conferencing firm Skype is readying a new feature that will allow up to five users to video chat at the same time, according to a report by the Associated Press. For years, group conferencing has been one of the most sought-after new features for the video chat software, which currently limits the number of participants in a video chats to two.

According to Neil Stevens, general manager of Skype’s consumer business segment, an initial public beta test of the new feature, which is expected to launch next week, will be free — but Skype could begin charging for group video conferencing, along with other upcoming features, in the next three or four months. Group video chat will first be made available to Skype users on Windows PCs, and will be available on the Mac version of its software later this year.

Skype had more than 560 million registered users by the end of 2009, who together used up a total of 36.1 billion call minutes in the final three months of last year. According to TeleGeography Research, the company currently accounts for 12 percent of the world’s international calls. However, about 36 percent of Skype-to-Skype calls included video in the fourth quarter 2009. That bodes particularly well for the company if it enables group video conferencing.

Earlier today, Skype announced it was changing its subscription plans to lower its subscription prices, making it cheaper for users to make calls from their PCs to landlines and mobile phones around the world. Now its challenge is to convert free PC-to-PC users to paying subscribers. Creating a paid offering for video chat — one of its most requested features — might go a long way toward increasing its revenue stream.

Related content on GigaOM Pro: Mobile Market Overview, Q1 2010 (subscription required)

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