Last week, Facebook added the capability to make Voice over IP (VoIP) calls to its Messenger App for the iPhone. Using this feature, iPhone Facebook users can now make free calls to other Facebook users using a data or Wi-Fi connection. What makes this interesting, and another step in the direction of the end of the telephone that we’ve noted before, is that users of the app can dial their friend through their Facebook account, not through their telephone number. This is interesting because the current version of the telephone network identifies the user through a telephone number and if some other form of identity could be used to identify a user, such as a Facebook account, then the phone companies will lose their virtual monopoly on connecting phone calls.
Whether Facebook is it or not remains to be seen. For all that they have a billion users, Facebook is still not the single source of online identity. There’s still Twitter, LinkedIn, the Google properties, etc. However, maybe there doesn’t need to be a single source of online identity. Consider that lots of people still have at least three phone numbers, Home, Work, and Mobile, so maybe there will be different ways to identify yourself to the new phone network depending on the types of calls that you want to receive.
The carriers haven’t given up easily in the past. They have outright blocked some features, presented users with “dumbed down” versions of their own and other tactics, although it should be noted that these are really just delaying tactics. Also, as we have discussed, AT&T is aggressively pursuing a filing with the FCC to let them retire the old Public Switched Telephone Network in favor of a VoIP alternative. I would imagine that Facebook is aggressively negotiating with the carriers to figure out where this is going.
Another aspect to consider is whether this is simply a play on Facebook’s part to make more money from the Mobile market, which they are pursuing aggressively. In the past, most analysts have assumed that this strategy meant that they are looking for ways to present advertising on mobile screens, but if like Skype, they begin to charge for calls that have to go to the old phone network (because Grandma doesn’t have a Facebook account), then maybe that’s where this is going.
Whichever way it turns out, it is simply one more way to get around the old phone network and it should be a way to pursue additional ways to contact your employees, vendors and customers.