Facebook phone? It may already be here.

J. Angelo Racoma
Facebook Messenger

In search of a Facebook Phone? It might already be here, with Facebook Messenger supporting voice calling over WiFi and data networks.

When Facebook invited the media to its Menlo Park, CA headquarters for a big announcement, there were speculations that this could be about a Facebook smartphone. The social network, after all, already has big presence on mobile platforms like Android and iOS, but lacked its own platform.

That announcement turned out to be totally different, with Facebook introducing its Graph Search functionality , which allowed users to look for relevant content within their networks using natural language.

But if a Facebook phone were the holy grail of social networking and communications, it’s probably here right now, in the form of Facebook Messenger. The small application, dedicated to instant messaging with friends on the social network, has quietly introduced voice calling — a fact initially reported by The Verge .

[I]f you live in the US, you can now call other Facebook users for free over Wi-Fi or using your phone’s data connection while you’re on the go.

The limitation at this point is that VoIP calling is limited to the U.S. and Canada, but Facebook is expected to expand coverage to other regions soon. Also, the functionality is currently available only on the iOS variant of the app, and has not yet been extended to Android. Just click on the “i” icon for a contact within a chat window, and you will get an option to call that person through Messenger. Upon testing, The Verge’s Ellis Hamburger has concluded that voice quality is at par with commercial and consumer-oriented services like Skype, Viber and Vonage.

But you might ask, why launch another voice talking service, when we already have the likes of Skype and even regional cross-platform offerings like KakaoTalk , LINE and WeChat. Even the latest BlackBerry Messenger offers VoiP calling. Does a voice-enabled Facebook Messenger add value?

Apparently, the value here is in your potential network. Facebook reportedly has a billion active users. And while the social network is banned from within China, it’s likely that most of your friends are already on Facebook. In contrast — and I’m basing this on personal experience — friends on other networks seem to be fragmented. For instance, most of my colleagues are on WhatsApp, my friends use Viber, and my family communicates via iMessage and BBM. But the common denominator amongst these groups is Facebook.

One other advantage is the potential for smartphone (or tablet) to PC calling. Facebook earlier inked an agreement with Microsoft to integrate Skype calling into its web interface. While there is no indication that Facebook Messenger will be able to communicate with web browser-based Facebook users, such a possibility is definitely interesting.

And so, while Facebook has not exactly announced a new mobile OS altogether, its cross-platform Messenger might be the next best thing, offering instant messaging, multimedia sending (photos, voice snippets) and now voice calling. The app does not support video calling for now, though, which puts it as a disadvantage relative to Skype, FaceTime or WeChat, although this added feature might not be too far away from being added to Messenger.

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