Skype group video calls are now free

Microsoft is making group video calls on Skype free.

Previously, users had to pay $9.99 per month for a Premium account

The Skype calling problems began around 4 a.m. ET. It wasn't until nearly 8 p.m. ET — nearly 16 hours later — that Skype reported on its blog that services had been fully restored. (Paul Sakuma/Associated Press)

Microsoft is making group video calls on Skype free.

Starting today, if you are using Skype on Windows, Mac or Xbox One, you'll be able to hold group video chats with other Skype users without paying the $9.99 per month for a Skype Premium account, announced Phillip Snalune, general manager of consumer marketing at Microsoft's Skype division on the Skype Big Blog today.

The feature allows up to 10 people to participate at once. Screen sharing among the group is also free.

"In the future, we’ll be enabling group video calling for all our users across more platforms – at no cost," said Snalune.

He wrote that he uses the feature for regular training check-ups with his cycling team, but suggested it could also be used for a range of virtual meet-ups, including study groups, painting clubs, family ‘get-togethers.’

Previously, with a free Skype account, you could only make one-on-one video and voice calls and free voice group calls among Skype users.

Premium account users had access to group video calls, group screen sharing and a few other features, such as unlimited calls to phones in a single country or region. Skype users generally have to pay to call regular phones. 

"Now that group video calls are free for everyone, we've removed Premium to give it a refresh," said the Skype Premium website today.

Free group video chatting has already been offered for some time by Skype competitors such as Google's Hangouts service. Unlike Skype's group video chat, Google Hangouts works on mobile devices.

According to Microsoft, as of June 2013, there were 299 million Skype users worldwide. Microsoft bought Skype for $8.5 billion US in 2011. 

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