Google to offer free long-distance calls

Gmail users will soon be able to make calls from their computers. But the service won't be free forever.

By Kim Peterson Aug 25, 2010 2:38PM
Damaged cell phone © Nick Koudis / Getty ImagesPretty soon you'll see bright red phone booths at airports and universities. Inside, people will be able to make free long-distance domestic and international calls.

Google (GOOG) is installing the phone booths to introduce people to Google Voice. The company is also making a splash this week by offering free voice calls through Gmail.

For the rest of the year, calls to the U.S. and Canada will be free. Calls to other countries start at 2 cents a minute.

Here's how it works: A new button that says "call phone" will appear on the chat list in Gmail. Clicking that button brings up a dial pad on the screen. A headset with a microphone would be an ideal accessory, but people should be able to make calls as long as their computers have a decent microphone and Internet connection.

Oh, and you have to download this Google plugin to make calls. Post continues after video:
"This is great news if you've got bad cell reception in your home or workplace, because you can make and receive calls anywhere you have Wifi reception," writes TechCrunch.

So is this the death knell for Skype, the online calling service gearing up for an IPO? Probably not. Google's calling won't always be free; the company promises free calls "for at least the rest of the year." Skype already has low rates, and the two will likely be very competitive.

Google is positioning itself to become a strong rival to Skype, but it's not a Skype-killer. The real battleground for these two will be in the workplace, writes Larry Dignan at Between the Lines. "Rest assured, the feature will wind up as a business tool."

Skype has also been focused on expanding into the workplace. Both companies will need to have top-quality features -- such as easy-to-use videoconferencing, painless integration and killer apps -- to really compete at the corporate level.
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