Fresh from a US$19 billion takeover by Facebook, mobile messaging service WhatsApp yesterday said it will launch free voice calls by the middle of the year.
The introduction of free calls, revealed on the opening day of the four-day World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, Spain, would match rival application Viber’s similar offering.
“We are going to introduce voice on WhatsApp in the second quarter of this year,” WhatsApp founder Jan Koum said.
WhatsApp currently has a voice function, but only in note form. This new service will be live.
Facebook Inc, whose 29-year-old billionaire creator and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg served as the star speaker on the opening day of the industry fair, announced a stock and cash purchase of WhatsApp on Wednesday last week.
“Five years ago we had no users, no product,” Koum said.
“Today we have 465 million active users,” he said, adding that the company still had no marketing, relying mostly on word of mouth to prosper.
WhatsApp had not planned any changes in the way it operates following the Facebook takeover, Koum said.
“Mark really understands that for WhatsApp to stay successful, it really needs to stay independent,” he said.
Viber, one of WhatsApp’s key rivals, offers free voice and messaging.
Japanese online shopping group Rakuten Inc announced this month it would purchase Viber’s Cyprus-based developer, Viber Media, for US$900 million.