WhatsApp will offer free voice-call services to its customers by the end of this year.
The plan, revealed by WhatsApp’s CEO Jan Koum at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Monday, is part of the company’s strategy to grow from its current 450 million users up to one billion.
WhatsApp’s new service will probably infuriate mobile phone operators that have already seen one important portion of its revenues – text messaging – reduced by the emerging free Internet based services.
Last year, telecommunications companies worldwide generated about $120bn (£72bn) from text messaging.
The contribution of voice-calls to mobile operators’ revenue has been continuously decreasing as the companies have been tweaking their tariffs in favour of data services.
Mobile phone operators, though benefiting from the growing demand for smartphone Internet connectivity triggered by the boom of smartphone applications, are generally critical about the lack of regulation related to the operations of Internet companies.
"They (Internet firms) need to be regulated a little bit more and we need to be regulated a little bit less," said Jo Lunder, director of Russian mobile network operator VimpelCom.
Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao said he did not understand how such an important acquisition as the Facebook-WhatsApp deal could go unchallenged at a time when European network operators were facing intense regulatory scrutiny.
"These types of deal are a clear indication that the world is changing and the regulations don't fit anymore," Colao said.
On Monday, the European Parliament was supposed to vote on a package of proposed telecoms market reforms which among other provisions would restrict the ability of carriers to charge Internet companies like Facebook to give them an enhanced service in handling their network traffic. However, the vote, also covering the creation of a single European telecommunications market, was postponed. It is believed mobile phone carriers disagree with the proposed changes that would make it impossible to charge customers roaming fees for calls within the EU.