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T-Mobile turns Facebook telco

Turning pokes into phone calls

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T-Mobile USA has launched itself onto Facebook, providing free VoIP calls between social networkers though the service is not yet integrated into the operator's mobile network.

Bobsled by T-Mobile is a VoIP application integrated with Facebook to provide audio connections between users with a tap of the mouse, along with a voice mail service capable of pasting messages to the receiver's wall. That's far from unique; there are a handful of similar services, but the addition of the T-Mobile brand is a significant development.

"As the way people communicate transcends networks and devices, Bobsled by T-Mobile positions T-Mobile as a provider of cloud-based communications services over the internet" says the company blog, before promising to add connections to existing mobile and fixed networks in the near future.

T-Mobile reckons that 88 per cent of Facebook users would like to be able to talk to their "friends", which does beg the question of why they've not bothered to install any of the various existing options. Facebook has no official VoIP client, but there are various companies filling the gap to provide services very comparable to T-Mobile's Bobsled.

VoIP networks, just like social networks, need a critical mass of users to be sustainable. Existing VoIP services exist within specific demographics or social groups, but T-Mobile reckons it has the brand to become the default standard for Facebook VoIP, which is important as social networks trend towards becoming the end users' communications hub.

Bobsled is branded T-Mobile, but comes from Vivox, which provide the same VoIP functionality to 20 or so companies. Most of those are online games, including EverQuest and Second Life, so the VoIP client comes bundled with the application.

For Bobsled, Vivox has created an invitation system, so if the call-receiving party does not have the software installed he gets a chat window suggesting he download and install it – though he'll need a pretty fast connection to do all that before the caller gets bored.

T-Mobile has no apparent revenue stream for Bobsled; the operator just wants to make sure it's not left out of the social-networking revolution. Working out how to bill customers for calls will be the next step, along with allowing connections to fixed and mobile numbers and creating a platform capable of competing with Google Voice. ®

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