Multibillion-dollar chat app WhatsApp will let users make voice calls, it was announced today.
Its makers said that in the second quarter of 2014 it would begin rolling out support for voice comms for iOS and Android devices with Windows Phone and BlackBerry support planned for a later date.
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Announcing the new service at a keynote address to the Mobile World Congress (MWC) expo in Barcelona, WhatsApp execs said that the move would bring voice-calling some 450 million users.
"We think we'll have the best voice product out there," CEO Jan Koum was quoted as saying. "It'll use the least amount of bandwidth and we’re going to optimize the hell out of it.”
WhatsApp, a classic over-the-top application that piggybacks network operators' infrastructure, already offers limited voice support: recorded mobile messages, rather than live audio chats.
The announcement also sheds some light on just why Facebook decided to pony up an eye-watering $19bn for WhatsApp. While Facebook operates its own in-house text messaging platform, WhatsApp's own user network and clout in the mobile space, combined with a possible voice calling option, could provide Facebook with a valuable inroad into not only the social networking space, but the mobile communications market in general.
Since the deal was announced, speculation has abounded that mobile phone access was a major factor for the acquisition, something which will only be furthered by today's announcement of a WhatsApp voice-calling feature.
In a separate keynote address at MWC, Facebook CEO Marc Zuckerberg reiterated the company's commitment to letting WhatsApp run as a separate entity, a commitment both sides have reiterated in the wake of the deal. ®