Vonage is getting into the mobile-apps game with a social-media twist, combining two of the tech industry's hottest trends with a new service for Facebook. The Vonage Mobile application lets users make free mobile calls to Facebook friends who also have the app.
After bragging about the app as a tangible example of the company's commitment to deliver more value to its global customer base, Vonage CEO Marc Lefar promised it's only the beginning. "In the future we will expand on this service to include a wide range of integrated voice and messaging services that change the way people communicate," he said.
Vonage vs Skype
Vonage is working to one-up Skype, which has Voice over Internet Protocol apps that work with Verizon Wireless. Like Vonage, Skype offers free calls and IM. But Skype is limited to Verizon and Symbian phones.
The Vonage app also works with Android devices on Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile. And Vonage now has something no other mobile VoIP provider offers, at least not yet -- the Facebook connection.
As Yankee Group Director Carl Howe sees it, Vonage's move to integrate its mobile app with Facebook is interesting for a few reasons.
"You don't have to load up your contact list. Your contact list is already there. It clearly has a bit of a viral component. The more people who use the applications, the more invitations will go out," Howe said. "This is an area where you are going to see a lot of companies jockeying for position, trying to become the mobile-voice app on the smartphone."
Vonage customers can download the mobile app from the iTunes Store, Android Market, or the Vonage Facebook fan page. The software is free. Then users enter their Facebook ID and password. This only has to be done once.
The software automatically loads the user's Facebook contacts and groups them according to who can be called for free -- that is, those who have also downloaded the Vonage Mobile application for Facebook -- and which friends are available for instant messaging on Facebook.
Finally, the user can touch a friend's name from the Call Free list to make a free call. When the user places a call, the friend's profile picture and status update display on the screen. The phone will ring for incoming Vonage calls from Facebook friends, even if the app is closed.
The app also invites the user's friends who don't have the app to download it on the Vonage Facebook fan page. The service works over Wi-Fi as well as 3G and 4G networks in most countries and essentially eliminates traditional dialing.