PALO ALTO, Calif. As the cameras and screens of smartphones and tablets improve, and as wireless networks offer higher bandwidth, more companies are getting into the business of enabling mobile video calls.
The details vary from one service to the next, but the experiences are similar: From anywhere in the world with a wireless network, a smartphones screen fills with the face of a friend or relative. The quality is about the same jerky-but-functional level as most desktop video. Sound is not always perfectly synced with the image, but it is very close. The calls start and end the same way, by pressing a button on the screen.
Mobile video calling has risen so quickly that industry analysts have not yet compiled exact numbers. But along the way, it is creating new business models, new stresses on mobile networks and even new rules of etiquette.
All the communications social messages, calls, texts and video are merging fast, said Eric Setton, co-founder and chief technology officer of Tango Mobile, whose free video calling service has 80 million active users. An additional 200,000 join daily, Setton said.
Once an interesting endeavor for a few startups like Tango, mobile video has caught the attention of big companies. Apple created FaceTime and made it a selling point for the iPad. In September, the company made FaceTime available on cellular networks instead of limiting it to Wi-Fi systems.
Earlier this month, Yahoo purchased a video chat company called OnTheAir. And in 2011, Microsoft paid $8.5 billion for Skype, a service for both video and audio-only calls. Though most people use Skype on desktop and laptop computers, the software for the service has been downloaded more than 100 million times just by owners of phones running Googles Android mobile operating system. Microsoft built a service for its Windows 8 mobile phone that lets people receive calls even when Skype isnt on.
Google, which has more than 100 million people a month using its Google Plus social networking service, now offers more than 200 apps for its video calling feature. It says it is interested not in making money on the applications, but in learning more about them so it can sell more ads by getting people to use its free video service, called Hangouts. Hangouts can be used for two-person or group calls, or for a video conference with up to 10 people.