Google announced on Wednesday, the day after Christmas, that it would continue to allow North American residents to make free voice calls through Gmail for another year.

Gmail users in the U.S. and Canada can make domestic phone calls through Gmail by clicking the telephone icon above the "search people" box in the left-hand sidebar.

Domestic phone calls are free, while Google called its rates for international calls "insanely low" in a short announcement from the Gmail team on Wednesday.

Google's announcement said that Gmail calls, which cost money outside the U.S. and Canada, are available in "most countries," and Google's support website claims that the search company is "working on making this feature more widely available."

The start of something good

Google began offering free voice calls to phone through Gmail in 2010.

At the end of every year since then, it's announced that the free Gmail calls program would be extended through the next year, and 2012 was no exception.

With the free voice calls feature, Gmail competes easily with Skype, and even compares favorably with traditional phone services in countries where it charges money - in most countries 1¢ per minute, though that reaches 10¢ or 15¢ in a few places.

It seems that though Google will allow Gmail users to make free phone calls for another year, the company is hesitant to announce that it will run the service indefinitely.

Perhaps it wants to retain the freedom to cancel the program at any time - though hopefully it doesn't do it on the day after Christmas. That would be a Grinch-like move indeed.

Via Gmail Blog