If you live in one of the lucky 14 countries selected for a new test, it's now cheaper to use Facebook's Messenger app to make a phone call — and it might be spreading.
Facebook has been toying with the idea of Voice Over Internet Protocol talking for a few months now. Originally a Canadian experiment, Facebook updated its Messenger app in January to include VoIP calls for everyone. Using the same technology that was supposed to turn Skype into a technoglobal powerhouse, users now have the option to make voice calls using Messenger over Wi-Fi or their data packages.
But Facebook's latest move looks to get rid of the potential data fees all together. Facebook cut a deal with 18 carriers in 14 countries to offer a discount on voice calls over the Messenger apps for Android and iOD, and the non-smartphone app Facebook for Every Phone — effectively eliminating any reason to use your phone as a phone when calling friends. (Unless, you know, your friends aren't into Facebook, or your mom doesn't understand that sort of thing.) The lucky carriers and countries are: TMN in Portugal, Three in Ireland, Airtel and Reliance in India, Vivacom in Bulgaria, Bakcell in Azerbaijan, Indosat, Smartfren, AXIS and XL Axiata in Indonesia, SMART in Philippines, DiGi in Malaysia, DTAC in Thailand, Viva in Bahrain, STC in Saudi Arabia, Oi in Brazil, Etisalat in Egypt, and Tre in Italy.
For users, talking with your friends is now infinitely easier. Short of calling businesses, many people have a more developed Facebook address book than they do in their phones. The allure of calling over Messenger — especially at a reduced rate from what you would pay your service provider for regular minutes — makes a lot of sense.
There's no clear indication whether the same discounts will be coming to the U.S. any time soon, as that's pretty disruptive, and giving away data is a big leap in terms of disruption from the original Canadian test to the mere availability of Messenger VoIP calls. If anyone jumps on a similar plan, though, it could be AT&T. Their network and technology chief John Donovan told the Wall Street Journal last year that the company was looking to create a form of "toll-free calling" that would be paid for by tech companies. "A feature that we're hoping to have out sometime next year is the equivalent of 800 numbers that would say, if you take this app, this app will come without any network usage," Donovan explained.