WhatsApp Instant Messaging application has released its newest facility – the ability to make free voice calls to other WhatsApp contacts. Whilst this facility is currently available only to Android users, it is just a matter of time before it is made available to iOS devices too. The voice facility initially started out being available “by invitation only” which presumingly allowed the techies to test the quality and capacity of their network, however now no invitation is needed as all Android users have this facility when updating to the latest version of WhatsApp from the Google Play store.
There are already several Questions which need to be answered in order fully understand the “free WhatsApp call facility”:
1. Is it really Free calls ?
No. When you use an application to make a phone call, you are using Data. This is the same type of data that you use when browsing the Internet, watching YouTube or downloading email. This data comes at a cost which you pay your cellular provider. If you are a regular user of mobile data, then typically you would load a Data bundle onto your account so that the cost per Megabyte of data is substantially reduced compared to the premium rate of using data “out of bundle”.
2. How much does a WhatsApp call cost ?
During my testing, I used between 200Kb and 500Kb per minute to make a WhatsApp call. Therefore, depending on your data package you could pay under 1c that phone call. If you don’t have a data package loaded, then this rate is much higher and in fact could be more than making a regular mobile calls.
If you make the phone calls over a WiFi network, then you no longer incur the mobile data rate as the phone uses the WiFi for its internet connection. You do pay the ADSL service provider and just piggyback on this network to make your calls. So again, not 100% free (unless you use a free WiFi hotspot).
3. Who pays for the call ?
It is important to note that when making a regular voice call, the caller is 100% responsible for the cost of that call. The receiver in most countries does not pay to receive the call. However, this is NOT so with WhatsApp voice calls as the receiver of the call also incurs data charges. Therefore both the caller and the recipient of the call pay their own data costs.
It is critical to remember this when accepting a WhatsApp call as the moment the call is answered, your mobile phone is consuming data which you pay for.
Currently, the WhatsApp application does not alert you if the recipient is on a WiFi or mobile data which would be useful to know in deciding whether to place the call or not.
Of course, if both parties are on a WiFi network, then neither incur the mobile data cost, however then neither party is “mobile” and therefore there are plethora of other VoIP applications which can be used.
4. How is WhatsApp voice calls different to other calling apps ?
It is not. Techie have been using apps like Viber, Tango, BBM to make voice phone calls for years – even making local calls within the same city. The result is cheaper data rates verses exorbitant mobile phone rates.
The big difference is that the apps like Viber, Tango are largely unknown and the BBM community has shrunk therefore WhatsApp’s large universal community virtually makes it a standard and the default go-to voice app.
5. What about Privacy ?
There is no Do Not Disturb or Disable phone calls facility in WhatsApp which could work against the initial intention of WhatsApp which was meant for discrete text messaging. Just like being able to disable the “two blue ticks” read notifications that inform the sender when the message has been read, there should be the option of disabling the Call facility too. One should be able to disable the Profile Pics from taking over the phone’s screen as there are inappropriate profile pics…
As there is no authorisation to become a contacts (as there is on BlackBerry BBM), I fear that spammers will latch onto this cheap voice call facility and being to randomly call numbers. This is currently happening with unsolicited text messages in WhatsApp but now could escalate to voice too.