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Google Extends Free Phone Call Offer for US Gmail Users

Gmail users in the U.S can continue call phones in North America and Canada for free after the new year, Google said in a blog post on Monday.

When Google announced the ability to make phone calls from Gmail in August its plan was to offer free calls to the U.S. and Canada until the end of this year. But now users will be able to make free calls to those destinations for all of 2011, Google said. Calls to other countries will continue to carry a charge.

The most likely reason for the extension is that Google hasn't been able to attract as many users as it had hoped back in August, according to Rosalind Craven, senior research analyst at IDC.

Google can afford to offer free calls to fixed and mobile phones in an effort to attract more users because it isn't as dependent on making money from the calls as Skype, Craven said. If Google one day decides to start charging, usage will inevitably go down, and its continued popularity will be decided by factors like quality, ease-of-use and how well integrated it has become in the way people communicate, she said.

Offering the ability to make phone calls from large Web services like Gmail is starting to chip away at operator revenue, according to Ben Wood, director of research at CCS Insight.

The voice services Google is offering now are only the beginning: network operators should start to get really nervous when Google introduces an easy-to-use service that is tightly integrated with its Android smartphone and tablet operating system, Wood said. There is already anecdotal evidence that business travellers are using Skype on their smartphones to make phone calls while abroad, threatening operators' still-lucrative roaming business, Wood said.

Calling from Gmail is only available to users based in the U.S., and Google has not said when Gmail users in other parts of the world will have access to the service, a spokeswoman at Google said.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

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