We did not see this one coming. While there were a number of important MWC 2014 announcements from Nokia, Samsung and Sony earlier today, WhatsApp appears to have stolen the thunder for the second week running by announcing that it will be supporting voice calls as early as the second quarter of this year.
Now the technology that supports voice transmission over mobile data or WIFI isn’t exactly new. There are already a number of popular Apps supporting voice calls. Skype has a premium service and Apps like Viber, Line, Kakao Talk, We Chat all have offered free voice calls over data for sometime now. The one problem with all the above mentioned services is that take up is very fragmented, and the voice call would only work if both parties are signed up to the same service.
WhatsApp might not have this problem, it has a huge user base that is quickly closing in on the 500 million mark. The likelihood that both parties are already on WhatsApp is much higher compared to other services. Jan Koum, WhatsApp’s co-founder and chief executive was quite ecstatic when asked about the technology behind the Voice calls by The Guardian. ”We use the least amount of bandwidth out there, and have optimised the hell out of it. We’ve made sure the quality is there, though, just like the messaging functions of WhatsApp.”
Judging by how fast this announcement was made after the acquisition by Facebook, one can only wonder if this bit of technology was what Facebook paid the inflated price for. If WhatsApp can bring the same level of optimization, simplicity and reliability of their messaging platform to free voice calls, telecommunication companies might have to start worrying that WhatsApp might do to Voice Calls what it did to short-messaging-services (SMS) in the last couple of years.