Influenced by a recent big money purchase by Facebook, the mobile messaging application plans to take aim at cell phone network carriers by adding voice service.
Merely a week after acquisition of the company by Facebook, WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum announced the arrival of a voice feature within the second quarter of this year. “I think we have the best voice product out there,” he added confidently at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. “We use the least amount of bandwidth and optimize the hell out of it.”
Through the app, users have been able to send text messages forgoing the traditional cell phone carrier restrictions like per text charges or a limit on texts sent per month. While WhatsApp, with 465 million users each month, boasts most of its users in Europe, the recent purchase from Facebook is expected to boost its popularity in the States. “We want to make sure people always have the ability to stay in touch with their friends and loved ones really affordably,” said Koum.
Last Wednesday, Facebook announced its purchase of the company for a whopping $19 billion, which includes $4 billion in cash, and $15 billion worth of Facebook shares. To put that number in perspective, Space Policy Online reports that NASA has been given about $17.6 billion for spending in 2014, which comes just under what Facebook will be paying for the new acquisition.
This big magnitude purchase of such a small company (WhatsApp has 55 employees) has many fearing big changes. Koum assured users that there are no plans for that at this time. For those who may be worried about Facebook’s influence on the startup app, like adding advertisements and marketing, he would like to calm your nerves. “In order for WhatsApp to be successful, it really needs to be independent. We can only get our product to a billion or 2 billion users if we continue down the path we started on.”
While WhatsApp already offers a version of a voice feature, the new second quarter plans will expand upon that. The current feature allows users to record their voice and send it to another WhatsApp user, similar to a voicemail. Once the new feature is released, users will be able to communicate just like a voice phone call.
Mobile network carriers may soon be feeling WhatsApp’s increase in users. Messaging fees and voice calls are still a giant source of revenue for carriers, but this trend has been moving towards data services, which include social networking and streaming music and video.
Koum said these new services are currently being tested and readied for release on Android and iOS phones. In the future, the company plans to work on some BlackBerry and Windows phones. The app is currently free for mobile users to download for the first year, and then charges a dollar year for service.
By Nate Rohenkohl