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Facebook calls upon iPhone users to help with mobile success

Wednesday’s announcement that Facebook plans to roll out mobile VoIP to iOS users in the US won’t come as much of a surprise to industry observers. Facebook has previously admitted weaknesses in the mobile area and has been actively exploring different avenues in a bid to increase its competitiveness in this market.

Mobile VoIP is the latest in its string of recent attempts to conquer the mobile field. So just how much should other VoIP players be worried by the social network giant’s plans?

Like all companies Facebook’s main concern is how to keep the money rolling in. Currently its main business model is click through ads - generating a steady source of revenue. Naturally, Facebook is eager to keep this source of income flowing and is looking at all possible ways to do so and mobile VoIP is an exciting prospect for them.

It’s a relatively easy way to keep existing companies interested in Facebook, whilst also having the potential to attract much needed new users. With recent claims, especially in the UK, that significant numbers of users are leaving Facebook, it’s also a way to retain customers. There’s no doubt that if they make success of VoIP it seriously increases the company’s competitive edge.

When Facebook decides to release or test something new, it immediately impacts the whole network. Thanks to its huge user base, new Facebook services can be tried out by millions of people in just a few days. Normally, building critical mass for a new product takes time, but for a new service introduced by Facebook, it’s achieved from day one.

That said, it’s important to reflect on the current standing of existing VoIP companies. Whilst Facebook is hugely influential, when it comes to VoIP, its service quality may not be up to the same standard as established players (ed: VoIP is not historically one of Facebook’s fortes; back in July 2011, the social network joined forces with Skype to launch Facebook Video Calling).

Furthermore, VoIP companies can be agile; they have specialised in this area for many years and have a great deal of experience and expertise that Facebook doesn’t yet possess. Companies such as Skype and Rebtel have also built up large and loyal followings over many years who may be reluctant to change their calling habits (Rebtel now has 20 million users).

So will existing VoIP users switch to Facebook? This all depends on how well VoIP companies react to the challenge. Now Facebook has invaded the VoIP playing field, other companies need to strengthen their customer relationships, make sure they continue to provide a premium service and constantly innovate to keep users engaged.

Facebook has stepped into the Mobile VoIP space to help bolster its mobile offering and support advertising initiatives. Whilst some may believe it hasn’t got a serious future in this sphere, it is important to take this move seriously. If Facebook does see success in the mobile VoIP space and competitors fail to react, the power of the social media giant could soon leave existing players calling for help.

Andreas Bernstrom is the CEO of Rebtel, the world´s largest mobile VoIP Company after Skype. Today, Rebtel is growing rapidly with more than 20 million callers and a run rate of over 1 billion minutes per year. Rebtel users call through smartphone or desktop applications to make free or cheap international calls. The company is profitable and reached $80 million in revenue in 2012.