T-Mobile launches voice chat for Facebook

As regulators consider AT&T's $39 billion bid for T-Mobile USA, T-Mobile is still introducing new services to attract customers and find new revenue streams.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read

T-Mobile USA wants to offer more than cell phone service. The company is getting into the voice over IP market with a new application that will allow people to make voice calls from Facebook.

T-Mobile's new VoIP app allows people to make phone calls from inside Facebook Chat. T-Mobile USA

T-Mobile USA today announced the Bobsled by T-Mobile service, which will offer voice calls via Facebook. This new application will provide Facebook's more than 500 million users worldwide with free, one-touch calling to their Facebook friends from a personal computer and through the social platform's chat window.It's available now for download here.

T-Mobile's move to expand its service offering is yet another indication that the company is not idly waiting for regulators to approve AT&T's bid to buy the company. Last month, AT&T said it would spend $39 billion to acquire T-Mobile USA, which is owned by German telecommunications provider Deutsche Telekom. The acquisition will pair No. 2 carrier AT&T with No. 4 carrier T-Mobile to create the largest wireless operator in the nation. Regulators have vowed to examine the deal closely.

Competitor Sprint Nextel and some consumer advocates want the deal blocked. The regulatory review process will likely take at least a year and could take up to 18 months to complete. In the meantime, it looks as though T-Mobile is moving forward with new offerings.

In addition to making live voice calls, the new Bobsled app will allow Facebook users to send voice messages to their friends either privately or via their "walls." T-Mobile said the Bobsled application for Facebook is available starting today as a free download for all Facebook users, regardless of whether they are also a T-Mobile cell phone subscriber or not.

Once the app is downloaded, customers can place voice calls to their friends through the Facebook Chat window with a single click. The service is very similar to Skype, which also allows free calling over the Internet. Skype users also initiate Skype calls to other Skype users by clicking on a screen name. T-Mobile believes having the feature integrated into Facebook is helpful since people can simply initiate a call by clicking on someone's name rather than having to remember their Skype handle.

But the Facebook chat feature is just beginning, T-Mobile execs say. The company has broader ambitions for its Bobsled service. The Bobsled platform will also power T-Mobile's Group Text and Cloud Text applications on the new T-Mobile Sidekick 4G, the company says. The Group Text feature lets subscribers create, name, manage and participate in reply-all group text conversations. The Cloud Text service allows customers to text from other platforms, such as a PC or tablet.

T-Mobile also plans to add other features, such as video chat, the ability to place calls to a mobile phone of landline, and it will also offer apps on smartphones and tablets across mobile platforms regardless of the carrier.

It's unclear if the new services that T-Mobile is introducing now as part of Bobsled will become a part of the AT&T service if the merger is approved by regulators.

But what is certain is that T-Mobile is still trying to innovate and offer new services to keep its business afloat and attract new users. T-Mobile has always been a price leader in the U.S. mobile market, undercutting its competition in an attempt to attract new subscribers. Last week, the company announced a new "unlimited" voice, data and texting that undercuts its competition by at least $20 a month.

"We are competing and innovating everyday to build the best asset we can no matter who the shareholders are," said T-Mobile senior Vice President Brad Duea. "And whoever owns us will have to evaluate whether to proceed with certain products and services. But for our customers, the new service is risk free. It's a free app that can be downloaded."