WhatsApp, the mobile messaging startup that was recently acquired by Facebook for a staggering $16 billion in cash and stock and $3 billion in restricted stock units, will expand to voice communications in the second quarter of this year, co-founder and chief executive Jan Koum announced earlier today.
Koum at Mobile World Congress:
We want to make sure people always have the ability to stay in touch with their friends and loved ones really affordably. We’re going to introduce voice on WhatsApp in the second quarter of this year.
WhatsApp has 465 million users each month whom I’m sure will welcome the ability to place calls using the app. The WhatsApp voice service will first begin with Android and iPhone apps, Koum said, and will expand later to Windows Phone and some BlackBerry phones.
WhatsApp already offers voice messaging, the ability to send short, recorded voice messages to other users, but adding true voice communications will likely be a thorn in the sides of carriers. Voice communications and SMS were once major sources of revenue for carrier networks.
Koum described the new voice functionality as nearer telephone than voicemail, and was confident about its prospects:
We think we have the best voice product out there. We use the least amount of bandwidth and optimize the hell out of it.
WhatsApp is not without competition in this space, with other apps like Viber and Skype offering VoIP capabilities. Facebook, now WhatsApp’s owner, also offers voice communications, but the WhatsApp co-founder says that the app will continue to operate as an independent entity, the same as another expensive Facebook acquisition – Instagram.
In order for WhatsApp to be successful, it really needs to be independent. There are no planned changes. We can only get our product to a billion or 2 billion users if we continue down the path we started on.