Google has confirmed that it plans to allow American and Canadian users to make free phone calls directly from their Gmail accounts this year, going directly into competition with Skype and other more traditional phone operators.
The Calls from Gmail service rolls out this week in the US and Canada, with no word as yet from Google on plans to bring such a service to the UK and Europe.
Google will allow users free calls to U.S. and Canadian phones from Gmail, at least until the end of 2010, with very low rates for those users making international calls.
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Cheap international calling
Calls to the UK, mainland Europe, Japan or China could be as low as 2 cents per minute, claims Google.
TechRadar has contacted Skype's UK office for response to the announcement, as the launch of a major VoIP service from Google is in direct competition to the current market leader.
"This is a risk to Skype. It's a competitor with a pretty good brand name," Hudson Square analyst Todd Rethemeier told Reuters.
Rethemeier added:"Calling is so cheap already that I don't think it will attract a huge amount of domestic calling. It could take some of the international market."
Google said its new Gmail phone service will work very much like a normal phone and that users will merely click the "call phone" option in their chat buddy list in Gmail and either type in a number or the contact's name.
Google has not announced any plans to roll out its phone calls service to mobile.