WhatsApp to enable voice calling in second quarter

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WhatsApp, the popular cross-platform instant messaging software for mobile phones, announced on Monday that it will be enabling voice calling over data networks (VoIP) for the 465 million of its users come second quarter of 2014.

The move is part of broader plans to reach a billion users by year’s end, co-founder and chief executive Jan Koum said this morning at Mobile World Congress, which runs from Monday through Thursday in Barcelona, Spain.

WhatsApp is in the process of being acquired by the social networking giant, Facebook, in a transaction valued at $4 billion in cash and approximately $12 billion in Facebook shares. The development essentially means that Facebook now owns a phone company…

According to CNET, Koum said in a speech at Mobile World Congress:

We want to make sure people always have the ability to stay in touch with their friends and loved ones really affordably. We’re going to introduce voice on WhatsApp in the second quarter of this year.

iOS and Android editions of WhatsApp will get voice calling first.

The feature will be rolled out later to Windows Phone and some BlackBerry phones.

The Guardian reports that WhatsApp’s voice calling features will be free.

The program already offers voicemail, the ability to send recorded messages to contacts. The team is  currently optimizing voice calling to use “the least amount of bandwidth,” according to Koum.

The development is another indication that Facebook intends to operate WhatsApp as a separate entity, as promised, because Facebook Messenger has had VoIP calling in place since January of last year.

“In order for WhatsApp to be successful, it really needs to be independent,” Koum said. “There are no planned changes. We can only get our product to a billion or 2 billion users if we continue down the path we started on.”

He also said there is no reason to worry about privacy implications in regard to the Facebook deal:

We as a company and product want to know as little as possible about our users. We don’t want to know your name or where you live. There’s no plans to change that.

But plans can change down the road…

For WhatsApp, the most popular instant messaging platform in the world, an expansion to voice communications is a logical next step, especially given rival Viber recently added low-cost VoIP calling with a Skype-like Viber Out feature.

On Valentine’s Day, Viber confirmed it would get acquired by e-commerce giant Rakuten for $900 million. As for WhatsApp, it was also revealed that Mark Zuckerberg and his acquisition team at Facebook were able to beat Google which tried to buy the app for about $10 billion.

Coincidentally or not, WhatsApp suffered a major service outage just as the deal with Facebook was announced. The team attributed the downtime to “server issues,” but wouldn’t comment further.

WhatsApp is available free of charge in the App Store.

The app is free to use for the first year, after which it’s $1 per year.