Google just shattered the pay wall between VoIP and telephones, letting Gmail users make free voice calls to the United States and Canada.
Google promises that phone calls will remain free "for at least the rest of the year," while calls to other countries start at $0.02 per minute. The voice service for Gmail will roll out to users over the next few days. To get started using the service, you will have to install the free "voice and video chat" Web-based service to your Gmail account here.
Here's how it works: First, you'll need Google's Voice and Video plug-in. Within Gmail's "Chat" window, a "Call phone" option will appear. Up pops a little number pad, on which you can dial the phone you'd like to call. Your Google Voice number, if you have one, will appear as the outbound caller ID, and can be used to receive calls within Gmail. Otherwise, a generic number is shown, Search Engine Land reports.
Google doesn't mention whether free VoIP calls will be possible from cell phones, and an official blog post on the subject only shows Gmail's desktop application. However, the number pad that pops up for placing calls has the proportions of a cell-phone screen; maybe that's a hint of things to come.
With the introduction of voice calls in Gmail, Google probably just made a few enemies. The first is Skype, which only allows free VoIP calls to other Skype users. With Gmail, all calls within the United States and Canada are free. I imagine Gmail's calling feature won't go over well with home phone alternatives such as Vonage and MagicJack, not to mention telcos that offer digital phone service.
But Google's going to make a lot of people happy, as well. Home offices could use the Gmail service in lieu of a dedicated landline, and people who don't have landlines and want to cut down on their cell phone minutes could use Google's service for long conversations. If Gmail phone calls remain free beyond this year, it may be time to invest in a wireless headset and a mic.