Is Facebook preparing to take on Skype?

Facebook messenger image Unless you live in Canada, you won’t be able to take advantage of this yet. But, if it works, it could be coming to the US and UK.

What is it? Well, it’s a new feature Facebook is gearing up to roll out for its Messenger app, which lets users make free voice calls to their Facebook friends.

So far, only iPhone users in Canada are able to use it, but the idea is that eventually users will be able to make free internet voice calls, known as VoIP calls.

It comes at the same time Facebook Messenger released a new feature worldwide which gives you the option to record and send a message to friends.

Users simply hold and press a record button on the app, say what their message is, and it appears as part of their conversation.

Up until now, Facebook Messenger could be used only to send text messages, emoticons and photos.

But Canadian iPhone users are now able to go one better than the function available to everyone else and have real voice conversations with each other.

MessengerIt makes sense for Facebook to test their new product in Canada because it is a tenth of the size of the US but still has more or less the same mobile usage trends and demographics. If it proves successful in Canada, it is widely expected the US and UK will also benefit from the feature.

Users click on the i icon at the top of their conversation in Messenger to reveal a free call button which enables them to contact friends, as long as they are also within the test region.

And, while on the face of it, the call may appear to be free because Facebook itself isn’t charging any money for the service, users will use up data on their mobile plans. The same, however, is true for competitors like Skype, Vonage and Viber, so that won’t put Facebook at a disadvantage.

Rather than using technology similar to Skype, Facebook’s model is built on open-source software. If the test goes well, it might not be long before Facebook users can call each other over Wi-Fi.

And, with Facebook Messenger generally hovering near to the top of the Google Play Store and App Store, it seems safe to say lots of people already have the app installed on their new phones so would almost certainly use the new feature.

Technology website TechCrunch says the move could be an attempt by Facebook to take on the default, mobile network operated calling function on smartphones.

“Facebook wants to own social, and that means a lot more than the news feed and profile,” says the site. “Knowing who you’re close enough with to send voice recordings and calls helps it refine its relevancy-sorted content streams too.

“If Facebook has its way, eventually you’d only use it for friend-to-friend communication.”

And tech commentator Daniel Herzig says the move is even more radical, an attempt to reinvent the phone.

“Instead of a 10 digit code to contact someone,” he says. “Facebook is replacing an outdated system with names to call people.”

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