Google Rings in 2011 With Free Phone Calls

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — We know things like travel and health care will only get more expensive in the coming year, but there’s at least one thing for consumers to look forward to: free phone calls.

Google (Stock Quote: GOOG) announced Monday that it will allow all Gmail users to make free phone calls to the U.S. and Canada throughout 2011, a promotion that started in August but was expected to last only through this year. Google apparently caught a little of the holiday spirit.

“In the spirit of holiday giving and to help people keep in touch in the new year, we’re extending free calling for all of 2011,” the company said in a blog post.

To take advantage of this option, consumers simply need to have an e-mail account with Google. On the main page of your Gmail account, you’ll see a chat box where you can send instant messages to your e-mail contacts. This box also includes the option to place a phone call, much as you would do with other online calling services like Skype, except this one is free, whereas Skype charges about two cents per minute.

Google’s phone service proved quite popular when it was announced earlier this year, with more than 1 million calls placed in just the first 24 hours.

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