Facebook made quite some buzz when it quietly launched free calling through the Facebook Messenger app for iOS and Android. While initially available in the US and Canada, Facebook recently rolled out voice calling in the UK, too, with promise to launch in more countries. If you’re living elsewhere, you would be pleased to learn that Facebook Messenger calling is being rolled out to other countries, as well.
This came as a pleasant surprise while I was chatting with a friend last night. I saw the “free call” button and I know just what it meant. The option can be accessed by pressing the “i” button to get more information about your Facebook contact. The app will tell you if that contact can be reached via voice call, or if the person is not reachable via VoIP. This is indicated by either a greyed-out button or one with a slashed-out phone icon. “Your friend can’t receive calls right now,” it will say. This means your contact is not using the Facebook Messenger app on iOS or Android, or the contact is currently not connected.
Facebook Messenger places calls either through WiFi or your data plan, so it also warns you that it might consume your data plan and you might incur costs if you go over your allocation or if you’re on a pay-as-you-go service. Also, you can only call friends who are also using the Facebook Messenger app and not the full Facebook app itself. There’s no need to update the Facebook Messenger app, as the feature is activated on the server — unless you have a very old version.
Interestingly enough, Facebook has partnered with several providers around the world — especially in emerging markets — to offer free connectivity via Facebook Messenger. I wonder how this would pan out, especially given that the free Facebook messages and calls might eat into these carriers’ regular SMS and voice revenue. I also wonder if this works for international calls, as well, which would be the ideal scenario, given that VoIP players like Skype, Google Talk, Viber and a host of other messaging services, don’t limit calling to within specific locales. Does this signal the end of telephony as we know it? Is this the Facebook “phone” that everyone had been predicting for the past few years?
If you haven’t tried out Facebook Messenger yet, it’s available via Google Play and the iTunes App Store. Facebook has not quite made an announcement yet, but do expect calling functionality to roll out in your locale soon, if it’s not already active.