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Facebook tests voice calling in Messenger

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Stuart Thomas: Senior Reporter
Stuart Thomas joined the Burn Media team in 2011 while finishing off an MA in South African Literature. Eager to prove his geek credentials, he allowed himself... More

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This is interesting. Facebook has begun testing a feature in its Messenger app that will allow people to make free voice calls using Wi-Fi or data.

At the moment the feature is only being rolled out to a select number of iOS users in Canada but, if all goes well, it could soon be available for Android and around the globe.

In the meantime, people outside of Canada will be able to send each other short “push to talk” messages using the app. That’s neat, in a kind of gimmicky way but, as The Verge points out, VoIP rolling out to Facebook’s hundreds of millions of smartphone users could be a real game-changer.

Sure Skype’s been around on smartphones for a while now but the number of Skype contacts you have is always going to be more limited than the number you have on Facebook. The people you have as contacts on Skype are generally also ones you’ve added with the very definite purpose of contacting them using Skype.

The people you need to contact won’t always be the ones you have on Skype though. They’re far more likely to be on Facebook anyway (one-billion users means that’s more or less a certainty). But it goes beyond making more sense than even the biggest VoIP competitors.

While BlackBerry also offers free voice calls on BBM 7, the Facebook Messenger option will likely be phone agnostic in the future, giving it a massive boost over the Canadian manufacturer.

It means that, more than ever, your Facebook friends are your contact list… or at least the most important part of it. Your SIM card therefore becomes, more than ever, a tool for transmitting data.

That means that if the service takes off, mobile carriers are likely to feel a bit bent out of shape. After all, services like Messenger, WhatsApp and (in emerging markets) Mxit have been assaulting their text revenue for some time now, killing voice means that they’re just data providers and in places where people have Wi-Fi, not even that.