Your Gmail account sends e-mail, allows video and online chat, and now can call your contacts in the United States and Canada for free.
Google announced on its corporate blog today that its U.S. users will enjoy free calls, with slightly higher rates to other countries, by using the voice and video service embedded in Gmail Chat. The service is expected to bite into Skype's VoIP service, with Google posting rates that it says beat a "leading Internet telephony client."
Here are some reasons why Gmail Chat may be a better choice, at least for now.
International pay-as-you-go rates for Gmail calls range wildly, from $6.90 a minute to call Inmarsat, a British mobile satellite company, to 2 cents a minute to call Poland or Brazil. Other rates compare fairly closely, with Gmail voice calling rates 2 cents a minute to France versus 2.4 cents a minute for Skype (2.1 cents plus connection fee), but Google is offering free, unlimited phone calls to the United States and Canada.
That could best Skype’s rate for the rest of the year, since Skype charges $12 each quarter for a phone number and $2.99 each month for unlimited calls to North America on its subscription program.
2. Google Voice
This service, offered free by Google, consolidates all your phone numbers into a single number, and is being incorporated into the new Gmail system. Users already with Google Voice numbers will have that number displayed on caller ID and can receive calls to this number. Skype has to use a different number than your phone number (unless, for instance, you use Google Voice). In many ways, Google is cutting out the middle man in this relationship by offering to skip over Skype entirely.
3. Videoconferencing and Other Business Apps
While Skype offers free video chat, it also plans on packaging videoconferencing for business as a way to raise revenue for shareholders. Gmail also offers free video chat. While it hasn't been added yet, a spokesman said Google plans also to add voice chat to Google Apps, which is specifically aimed at companies.
Google has also expanded its Gmail contacts page to include more data like addresses and phone numbers. Along with the additions, Google has taken security seriously by alerting users of suspicious activity on their Gmail account.
4. The Google Cachet
Granted, Skype has 560 million registered users and 8 million paying users. Google's various sites have about 179 million unique users each month, according to ComScore. Google regularly expands its services' interfaces to meet users' needs.Skype, which just made its IPO, is still working on its untested business model. In five years I'm confident that Gmail will still be around, but I'm not so sure about Skype.
5. It's Free to Try
Gmail's free rate in the United States and Canada lasts at least until the end of the year, and Google said it plans to roll out the new system in the next few days. As soon as users see "Call Phones" showing up in their Gmail chat list, they're ready to go.
There are a few concerns about Gmail's phone call system, the biggest being when the free rate will end. So far Google hasn't give any answers, except to say it will be free until the end of the year. Unless the voice calls continue to be cheaper than Skype in January, Google doesn't have a prayer.
However, for now, business owners who have never used Skype will lose nothing if they try the new Google service. Perhaps they may even find that the international call costs are cheaper than their current calling plan, Skype included.