Skype killer?

A quiet revolution has begun.

Years ago, Google launched a service called Google Voice. Though hard for regular folks to understand, like many Google products, it was very powerful. It gave you a new mobile phone number and let you manage calls to that number through Google. You could send them to your landline, your mobile, or both; you could have certain callers go straight to voicemail, and have their messages transcribed automatically and added to your Gmail inbox. It was fabulous. But it was US-only.

Over time, Google added more and more features: you could port your existing number to the service, making Google your official mobile provider; you could call people from within Gmail. But it stayed resolutely US-only.

But now, it's come to the UK. Well, sort of. Don't get excited: it's not possible, not yet, to port your number to Google, or even to get a new one from them. But what you can do, or will soon be able to do at least, is call phones from Gmail. It's not free but, at 2p a minute to landlines and 7p a minute to mobiles, it could be cheaper than calling from your home phone or from your mobile. It's also a rival to Skype's SkypeOut service, meaning Google and Skype - now owned by Microsoft - are competing in yet another area.

Google say they'll be rolling out the service to UK users in the next few weeks, so keep your eyes peeled for popular phone numbers popping up in your Gmail chat window.

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