Google Introduces Free Phone Calls


You’ll never have to pay for a phone call in the U.S. again –well, not until next year anyway.

Google (Stock Quote: GOOG) announced Wednesday that they are introducing a calling system for anyone who uses Gmail, their popular e-mail service. Users will be able to make free domestic calls to anyone in the U.S. and Canada with this service, and will only have to pay $.02 a minute when making international calls.

This service, which Google says is being rolled out to users over the next few days, essentially builds upon existing chat features in Gmail that allow users to instant message contacts and video conference with them. Now, users will have the added option in the chat box to contact friends and family offline as well by calling their landlines and cell phones. Just click on the “Call Phone” option, and a standard telephone keypad will appear on the screen.

“Given that most of us don’t spend all day in front of our computers, we thought, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if you could call people directly on their phones?’” Robin Schriebman, a Google software engineer, wrote on the company’s blog.

But the service may not be free forever. “Calls to the U.S. and Canada will be free for at least the rest of the year,” Schriebman wrote.

While this is undoubtedly a nice perk for consumers, it will likely aggravate other phone services including Skype, which charges users about $.02 a minute to make phone calls through the Internet to landlines and cell phones. It could also frustrate the old guard of phone companies.

In March of last year, Google launched a limited-release version of a similar service called Google Voice, which allowed users to pick out one phone number that can ring all of their different phone lines. The service also let users make free domestic calls and charged varying rates for international phone calls.  This service quickly led to a direct conflict with AT&T (Stock Ticker: T) when Google tried to make the app available on the iPhone, and some speculated it could even anger other phone companies like Verizon.

Our guess is that Google’s real market strategy here is to further incentivize Internet users to sign up and stick with their Gmail accounts, in the face of growing competition from Facebook, which users are increasingly using instead of email to communicate with people. Either that, or Google just wants to seem cool.

For the time being though, Google’s phone service is certainly worth trying. Even if you don’t want to forfeit your landline or cell phone, taking advantage of this service could help you keep your minutes in check so you don’t go over your monthly limit and incur a penalty.

Even if you feel like you’ll never need to use this service, there will be another opportunity to take advantage of it. Google also announced they will soon roll out several telephone booths in airports and universities that are equipped with the service. Not only are they making it cheaper to call your friends and family, they’re doing it in style.

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