Google unveiled a Gmail phone-calling application Aug. 25 but is mum on when the service will expand offshore. Skype, Facebook and others are growing their international user base.
Google may have generated a lot of publicity with its Aug. 25 announcement
of an application that makes phone calls through Gmail, but the company is
staying mum about any international expansion of the upcoming U.S.-centric
"We don't have anything to announce about an international rollout
today," a Google spokesperson told eWEEK Aug. 26, "but we're looking
forward to bringing localized versions to more people in the future."
The application requires Google's voice and video plug-in, which can be found here
activated, Gmail users can click a "Call Phone" tab, opening a window
with a virtual keypad. Those with a Google Voice phone number will find their
Gmail calls display that number as their outbound caller
According to Google's
, more than 1 million calls had been placed through Gmail in 24
"We're rolling out this feature to U.S.-based Gmail users over the next
few days," Robin Schriebman, a Google software engineer, wrote
in an Aug. 25 posting on the Official Gmail Blog
. "If you're using
Google Apps for your school or business, then you won't see it quite yet. We're
working on making this available more broadly-so stay tuned."
But if Google is aiming to compete with Skype-an easy assumption, given
the company's recent acquisitions in the VOIP (voice over IP) market
the international market will be a key factor. Skype sees its business as a
global one, and
the recent preliminary prospectus for its IPO
suggests that a decline in
volume of international calling could have a severe effect on its bottom line,
the margins of which are already razor-thin. However, Skype's base of more than
560 million registered users also makes it a formidable contender to any
Via Gmail, calls to certain countries-including landlines in France
cost 2 cents per minute. That represents the low end of the price scale; at the
other extreme, a cost to Cuba
will run you 98 cents. A
complete list of rates can be found here
. An international expansion would
presumably make that country-to-country list exponentially more complicated.
But Skype may not be Google's primary target.
"We assume Google's ulterior motive is less about disrupting the
telecommunications industry (it will still pay termination fees to telcos) and
more about driving engagement within Gmail and its social networking
activities, to better compete with social networks such as Facebook,"
Goldman Sachs analyst James Mitchell wrote in an Aug. 26 research note, as
reprinted on Fortune's Website
But Facebook and other social networks are also looking internationally to
expand their user base, which leads back to the original question: When will
Google expand Gmail phone calling offshore?