WhatsApp Adding Voice Communications In First Big Move Since Facebook Buyout

What's up with WhatsApp?

What’s up with WhatsApp?

Oh, hello there, traditional telecommunications company relying a lot on voice and SMS services for revenue, is that a new little thorn in your side, courtesy of WhatsApp? The app already offered free text messages for a year (and only $1 per year after that) via a Wi-Fi or mobile network connection, and now in a move that could serve to take a bigger slice of the pie, it says it’ll start offering voice calls this spring.

In a move that sets it up as even more of a competitor to the telecom giants, WhatsApp announced the new voice communications today during the Mobile World Congress, reports CNET, fresh off last week’s surprise announcement that Facebook bought the company for $19 billion.

“We want to make sure people always have the ability to stay in touch with their friends and loved ones really affordably,” WhatsApp’s chief executive Jan Koum. “We’re going to introduce voice on WhatsApp in the second quarter of this year.”

He also added that the monthly user count had risen from last week’s 450 million users, touted during the Facebook announcement, to 465 million users.

Android and iPhone users will get the voice service first, with a later expansion to Windows Phone and some BlackBerry phones.

It’s slightly different from the voice messaging WhatsApp offered in the past, which was a recorded message that could then be sent like a voicemail. This will be a live thing. You know, like talking on the phone.

“We think we have the best voice product out there,” Koum said. “We use the least amount of bandwidth and optimize the hell out of it.”

He also stressed that WhatsApp will still operate on its own, separate from its new overlords at Facebook, just like Instagram has done.

“In order for WhatsApp to be successful, it really needs to be independent,” Koum said. “There are no planned changes. We can only get our product to a billion or 2 billion users if we continue down the path we started on.”

WhatsApp to go big on voice communications in 2nd quarter [CNET]