AOL is set to launch a VOIP service in a bid to bring packet-based calling technology to the mass market.

The company's CEO Jonathan Miller said that the service, AOL Internet Phone Service, would use the "buddy list" facility to show a subscriber whether friends were currently available. The service would be rolled out first to AOL members in limited locations and over time made available to the mass market, Miller said.

Pricing will be tiered, and the company will disclose it at a later time, said spokeswoman Anne Bentley.

The entry of AOL would bring one of the biggest companies associated with consumer Internet service into a market that in the past several months has been joined by major providers of DSL and cable modem services in North America. AOL already has a commercial VOIP service in Canada and has an ongoing trial in the US, Miller said AOL research shows consumer awareness and use of VOIP is still low, but he believes that over time, AOL can draw upon its experience in popularising the Internet for ordinary consumers.

"We intend to come out on the other side with a truly mass market product," Miller said. As with the company's Internet service, ease of use will be key. No AOL product should come with instructions, and if it has to have instructions, "There can't be any more than three things you have to do," he said.

Customers will be able to use their existing phones through an adapter that links them in to their broadband routers.

With the addition of the VOIP service, the AIM service over time will become a "dashboard" that subscribers can use to move easily between e-mail, instant messaging and voice calls, Miller said.