Google Adds Peer-to-Peer Support for Hangouts

Hangouts will route audio and video over a direct peer-to-peer connection rather than via Google servers, the company said.

Google Hangouts

Google has added new support for peer-to-peer connections for Google Hangouts users as part of a broader effort by the company to improve the speed and performance of the messaging and communication app.

A brief message posted recently to the company's Hangouts Help site notes that Hangout calls will use a direct peer-to-peer (P2P) connection "when possible" to boost delivery speeds of audio and video content shared between users via the app.

Direct P2P connections will allow Hangouts to route calls more efficiently between users, compared to having the calls being routed through one of Google's servers, which is how it has been done for so long, the company said.

But while P2P will speed up Hangouts, it can reveal location information the company added in a one-sentence caveat on the help page. "A direct peer-to-peer connection between you and the other person reveals both your IP addresses," Google noted. "With an IP address, it's possible to approximate your location."

A Google spokeswoman confirmed that the company has begun rolling out P2P support to all Hangout users last week to improve calling quality and speed.

Google Hangouts lets users communicate via chat, video, Short Message Service (SMS) and VOIP. It is an offshoot of the company's Google+ platform and is positioned as a rival to apps like Facebook and WhatsApp, though it does not have anywhere near as many users as either of them.

Application performance monitoring firm AppNeta last year estimated a 133 percent growth in use of Google Hangouts between 2013 and 2014.

Even so, GlobalWebIndex last year estimated that only about 5 percent of Internet users currently take advantage of Google Hangouts. GlobalWebIndex described Google Hangout's market presence as being "well behind" mobile messaging leaders like Facebook Messengers and WhatsApp.

Most of the interest in Google Hangouts has come from fast-growth markets like India, the Philippines and Mexico. The three countries in fact represent about 60 percent of Google Hangouts users, according to the GlobalWebIndex report. The United States does not even figure in the Top 10 markets for Google Hangouts, last year's numbers from GlobalWebIndex showed.

The additional support for P2P in Google Hangouts version 7.0 is part of a continuing bid by Google to make it a more attractive alternative to other mobile message apps. It is the second major upgrade to the platform since the company released Google Hangouts 4.0 for Android last summer.

With that release, Google introduced a new look and feel for the application via its use of the company's Material Design, design language. The company also added new functions like a new message compose button, a streamlined contacts list and revamped attachments to make content-sharing easier and faster using the platform.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.