Yahoo! ( YHOO) is apparently planning to launch a Web-based phone service to compete with eBay's ( EBAY) Skype.

The new instant messaging client will allow users to make calls using conventional phones, blogger Om Malik wrote on his site gigaom.com. He says the new offering may begin as early as next week. Yahoo!, which offers PC-to-PC calling through its instant messenger service, couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

"Yahoo is getting serious about VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and voice opportunities," wrote Malik, also a senior writer at Business 2.0 magazine. "It took them long enough."

Yahoo! and other Internet companies including Google ( GOOG) are making bigger pushes into telecommunications services because of the surging popularity of Web-based telecommunications services.

Yahoo! already has as presence in the telecommunications business. The company offers high-speed Internet access through partnerships with both Verizon ( VZ) and AT&T ( T).

Whether VoIP is a good bet for Yahoo! shareholders is an open question. eBay investors are still unsure whether the company overpaid for its $2.6 billion acquisition of Skype Technologies last year. eBay makes its money through premium services, which the majority of Skype users don't use. In addition, competition for Internet phone service is expected to intensify, which is likely to drive down prices even further.

Shares of Yahoo! rose 37 cents to $30.44. They have dropped 23% this year.

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