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Google Adds Free Telephone Voice Calls to GMail

By Craig Buckler

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Do you have a GMail account (who doesn’t?) From today, you may be lucky enough to notice a new “Call Phone” option in your Chat box…

Google Voice

Unlike the existing GMail voice and video chat system, Call Phone allows you to call a standard land-line telephone — the recipient doesn’t need to be logged on or even have a PC. What’s more, calls to the US and Canada are totally free and international calling rates are very competitive (less than $0.02 per minute for the UK, France, Germany, China and Japan).

The Call Phone system uses the same browser plug-in as voice and video chat and it’s available for Windows XP+, Mac OS X 10.4+ and Linux.

Google has announced they’ll be rolling out the feature to US-based GMail users during the next few days. International users and those using Google Apps in their school or business won’t receive it just yet. However, I’m going to let you into a little secret — I’m in the UK and the feature has appeared in my account. It’s possibly because I have “English (US)” set as my default language and, although I’m charged for local UK numbers, calls I make to the US are free! I suspect it’s a technical loophole which Google will plug, but I’d be interested to hear if any other non-US residents have received the feature.

Call Phone looks good and, assuming call quality and low costs can be maintained, Skype has reason to be concerned.

Have you tried the Call Phone feature from your GMail account? How was your experience?

Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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