Users of Google's email service, Gmail, will be able to make free calls to contacts in the United States and Canada through 2013 via the Web-based mail platform and Google's Voice service, the company announced this week on its blog.
The post also noted that in most countries, users could still call the rest of the world from Gmail at "insanely low" rates. Google Voice, which simply requires an Internet connection and a microphone to make calls, is part of a growing voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) ecosystem that also includes major players, such as Skype, now owned by Microsoft.
In 2002, when VOIP technology first emerged commercially, providers brought in $5.4 million in revenue from about 121,000 subscribers, according to a report released earlier this month from IBISWorld. A decade later, about 30 million Americans pay for VOIP service and the VOIP industry is expected to generate about $15.4 billion in revenue.
"Actual usage of VOIP technology is much higher, as customers who do not pay for their VOIP service are excluded from these statistics. Over the 10 years to 2017, industry value-added (the industry's contribution to the economy) is expected to increase at an annualized rate of 15.3 percent," the report said. "Regulations and the dominance of companies like Google threaten the industry, but the expansion of mobile broadband networks will open up new avenues for growth. Cable companies able to bundle VOIP service with cable service will fare best in consumer markets in the coming five years, while businesses will slowly but surely turn to VOIP for voice needs."
In November, Microsoft announced it was integrating its chat service, Windows Live Messenger with Skype, a move that signals the essential retirement of the world's most popular instant messaging service. By updating to Skype, Messenger users can instant message and video call their Messenger friends, and platform users can expect broader device support for all platforms, including Apple iPad and Google Android-based tablets. Users will also be able to do instant messaging, video calling, and calling landlines and mobiles all in one place. Other benefits include sharing screens, video calling on mobile phones and with Facebook friends, and group video calling.
Skype is also reaching out to small and midsize businesses through Skype in the Workspace (SITW), an online platform aimed at helping SMBs connect with business partners across the globe. Businesses can join the community using their existing Skype accounts, and then create public "offers" or "opportunities" through a series of promotional tools to invite community members to live sessions on Skype to demonstrate services or products to a wider audience.
Users also have the ability to book appointments with potential customers or suppliers and keep track of them with a meeting notification service. When an opportunity is over, users can give testimonials on the product or service offered.