Facebook updates its app and launches voice service
By Parvina Purkayastha - Mon Jan 07, 4:43 pm
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The social networking website announced that it will begin beta testing a new voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calling feature within its iOS Messenger app (only in Canada). The feature allows iOS users to call Facebook friends via Messenger.
According to some experts, if VoIP on Facebook goes global, “it could let everyone replace their phone bills with Facebook calls over the Internet, for free… and forever.”
Well, there are advantages and disadvantages to it. First of all, in this case, “everyone” would mean “everyone on Facebook who uses Facebook on their mobile phone and has a data plan capable of supporting VoIP”. Which isn’t all that many people, relatively speaking. As of September 2012, Facebook had 604 million mobile users, with around 470 million accessing Facebook via a smartphone app. That’s a big number, but still a small percentage of the 3.2 billion mobile phone users globally.
What’s potentially more interesting is what Facebook VoIP will mean for rivals like Microsoft’s Skype and Apple’s Facetime. Essentially, every friend you have on Facebook is a potential phonebook contact. With Skype, you can search for friends already using Skype otherwise you have to add phone numbers manually (although there are apps available to import contacts into Skype from various sources, such as Gmail, Outlook and Yahoo!, as well as your mobile phonebook). And Facetime only works with other iOS devices, whereas Facebook Messenger is OS-agnostic.
The difference is that Apple is fine with limiting its service to iOS, and Skype has years of experience. Facebook’s VoIP will be beta for some time, and it has to show it’s at least as reliable as Skype. Contacts and ease of use are all very well, but QoS/QoE is going to matter (and that could tie in with the ongoing question of operator partnerships as well).
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