RIM has launched a free service for BBM users that allows them to make voice calls through the mobile messaging network when their BlackBerry device is connected to Wi-Fi. Facebook has also recently announced plans to introduce a ‘social-calling’ service, allowing subscribers to make free voice calls over Wi-Fi from the social network’s desktop or mobile iterations.
Along with these new developments, Skype has existed for many years and is perhaps most synonymous with the increasing spread of VoIP calling, but does the advent of this slew of new video-calling services herald the end of traditional voice calls?
Well, one of those services, BBM Voice, is an interesting development in that it has shown that RIM is still supporting older BlackBerry devices ahead of the upcoming launch of its new BB10 operating system. BBM has always been a popular feature of the BlackBerry platform since free messaging appeals to the tight budgets of one of its key markets – teenagers.
However, the BlackBerry market share has fallen in recent years with Android and iOS gaining in dominance. While a system such as BBM Voice may well be carried in to BB10, the introduction of the internet voice-calling service may not have the same impact that it might have done if it had been introduced several years ago.
On the other hand, Facebook is huge. Nearing a billion users, with around half of these regularly accessing the service via a mobile device, the world’s biggest social network is in a better position than BlackBerry to bring about what could be a revolution in the way that people talk to each other.
Several network operators have already expressed concern that Facebook’s messaging services could be eating into the revenue that would otherwise be generated by text messages. In May, Danish research firm Strand Consult published the results of a survey that suggested mobile users could be sending Facebook messages instead of texts to save money.
Similarly, when Mark Zuckerberg’s company introduces what are effectively free phone calls they could have big appeal to users of the social network. The cash-strapped teens who previously looked to BBM to save money could well find chatting through their Facebook account to be a very attractive alternative.
However, the fact that Facebook’s service is free may not ultimately be the key to its success. What we think will truly make the service attractive to users is the fact it can be used through a profile that many of them will already have, with calls being made to what could be a long-standing list of contacts and friends.
Even with the popularity of a service such as Skype, signing up to something new and adopting it as a part of your online life takes more effort that using an extension of something of which you’re already a member. Using a feature that has been added to Facebook does not require the leap of imagination adopting a whole new service would.
This week’s poll on the Dialaphone blog has revealed more than 70% of our readers feel that voice calling over the internet could eventually replace normal mobile conversations, although there are still many that aren’t quite convinced the technology would effectively replace normal mobile voice calls.
We also took to the Dialaphone Facebook page to find out if our followers felt any differently, having already got access to Facebook’s messaging services, and the majority of respondents agreed that VoIP technology could have the potential to become the primary means of communication via mobile.
While we doubt that traditional voice calls from mobiles or landlines will disappear completely at any point in the foreseeable future, we envisage Facebook’s free voice-calling service to be hugely popular.
Web-based calling services have seen a gradual rise in popularity over the years and Skype itself is now the biggest carrier of international phone calls. Couple this with the easy access that a Facebook interface would give its users and the planned voice-calling feature could become huge.
Whilst these free services depend on a Wi-Fi connection, the increase in free wireless networks could lead to online calls becoming even more common than they already are. As was seen with the popularity of BBM’s messaging service over the years, offering something for free that people would otherwise have to pay for can be very, very attractive indeed.