Facebook rolls out free VoIP calling through iPhone Messenger

When Facebook sent an invite to journalists stating that they had an important announcement, most tech analysts were thinking that this would be about the much rumored Facebook Phone. Instead, Facebook presented Graph, which is a sophisticated search based on user posts, shares, likes and comments. After the Facebook Graph announcement, most users and analysts had just about given up on Facebook Phone. Now, it seems that Facebook Phone is a reality, but just not in the way most thought it would be. If you’re familiar with the standalone Facebook Messenger app for the iPhone and Android, you will be glad to hear that the app now supports VoIP calling.

(Image credit: The Verge)

For iOS users, there is no need to download an upgrade. It is expected that the Android version will come out with this feature soon. At this moment, service is limited to within the U.S., although Facebook had tested the feature in Canada in the recent weeks, too. Given the social network’s popularity worldwide, we can perhaps expect an international rollout in the weeks to come.

To make a voice call, simply open a chat with the contact you wish to call, and then press the “I” information icon. If both you and your friend can do calls, you will see a “free call” button, which you can press to make the VoIP call. Calls can be done through either WiFi or mobile data networks.

One reason why there has not been any news regarding rollouts and updates or other implementation details is because Facebook has not been actively advertising this service. However, the social network has long been implementing video calling on its web interface. After all, the company partnered with Skype and Microsoft in 2010. Microsoft is also actively investing in the social network. You may note that its default search engine is even Bing.

What’s interesting to note is that iPhone users did not even have to upgrade their Messenger app for the feature to appear, giving credence to the idea that the nascent feature had been planned from the start. It’s possible that the feature has actually been included in the last round of downloads, but has been throttled at the server level. Recall that the latest release of Messenger introduced the ability to record voice messages.

VoIP on Facebook has a captive market, which just so happens to be one of the largest in the world. As of end 2012, Facebook reportedly has more than 1 billion active users. This user base can be a big source of income, if not from direct revenue streams, but from big data, which seems to be Facebook’s main line of business right now. With a calling feature, Facebook will be able to keep track of which contacts you are fond of messaging or communicating with, thereby improving the so-called social graph that has become the currency of Facebook’s business.

So far, though, Messenger still does not have video calling, which puts it at a disadvantage compared with Skype, FaceTime and other similar offerings like Asian efforts such as LINE, KakaoTalk and WeChat. However, it’s the captive market that will be important here. Most of your friends are likely on Facebook already, so they will be just a phone call away.

Source: The Verge