Google Gmail Adds Skype-Like Call Features; Will Ad-Supported Calls Follow?

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Google will add the ability to make telephone calls to any phone in the U.S. or Canada from its popular Gmail application by integrating Google Voice and video chat.

The feature will roll out to U.S. Gmail users in the next few days. Although Google has offered chat and the ability to make calls to other Gmail subscribers signed into the email service, making a call with the new platform requires users to download Google's voice and video plug-in, click "Call Phone" in the Chat tab of Gmail, and dial the number on a keyboard that appears onscreen. The company's microphone and camera provide the required equipment. The platform likely integrates Gizmo5, which Google acquired last year.

Calls to the U.S. and Canada are free for the remainder of the year, but Google will bill at rates beginning at two cents per minute to other countries, similar to Skype. For those routing Google Voice to a mobile phone, call rates to Mexico, the U.K. or Spain would cost less than 20 cents per minute.

Subscribers to Google Voice can have any of the incoming calls sent directly to phones or Google Chat in the browser. A voice account will allow subscribers to answer phone calls in Google Gmail as well.

Advertisers and marketers watching Google expand services related to click-to-call Web and mobile ads or pay-per-click advertising can't help but believe in a future plan to integrate advertising. Clix Marketing Founder David Szetela believes the long-term plan is to provide cellular and Internet calling for free, supported by ads. "I think they will also combine telephony solutions to allow advertisers to include the ability to track phone numbers in their Web ads," he says.

It's not clear whether Google will focus on the consumer market and ad-supported phone calls, but looking at Skype's recent deal with Marchex might provide some insight into the tech company's direction. Skype launched a service offered through Marchex in July that relies on location and search queries on engines like Google.

Skype will move quickly to confirm its place in the Internet telecom market, taking aim at the enterprises market to support recent efforts. ZDNet points to Skype's Initial Public Offering (IPO) filing that describes the company push to support larger companies through two new products. The filing reads: "Skype Manager, which allows businesses to create Skype accounts, purchase our paid products and manage and pay for the use of Skype products by their employees, and Skype Connect, which allows businesses to connect their private telephone branch exchange (PBX) over the Internet to Skype's peer-to-peer user network to achieve low-cost calling."

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