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Facebook Messenger Launches Group Conference Calls (Audio-only)

Continuing their efforts to be THE communication platform you use, the Messenger team at Facebook rolled out "group calling" this week within the Messenger app on iOS and Android. The new feature was announced by David Marcus, head of the FB Messenger team. Right now this is audio-only (i.e. not group video) and per media reports is limited to 50 participants.

I had to go to the AppStore and upgrade the Messenger app on my iPhone to the latest version, but once I did, I suddenly had a phone icon in the upper right corner of a group chat:

FB groupcalls 1

Tapping that phone icon brought me to a screen where I could choose which of the group members I wanted to bring into the group call:

FB groupcalls 2

After tapping "Call" in the lower right, Messenger launched the call and gave me feedback about who it was connecting, etc:

FB groupcalls 3

It then connected those who were available and four of us were in a group conference call:

FB groupcalls 4

As you can see in the screen captures, I had the standard buttons to mute my microphone and to activate the speakerphone.

AUDIO QUALITY - The audio quality was quite good. I couldn't find any technical info about what they are doing "under the hood" but one of the folks on the call understood that it was WebRTC-based, which would then imply the use of the excellent Opus audio codec. We experienced a couple of audio hiccups but nothing outside the normal VoIP experience and nothing that really detracted from the call. It certainly sounded like a rich, wideband-audio connection.

We didn't stay on the call for long as I didn't want to take their time (or my own), but exiting the call was simple and brought us right back into the group chat to continue our communication.

MOBILE-ONLY - One concern noted by a couple of folks was that the incoming audio call only rang on their tablet or phone, i.e. the iOS or Android app. It did not ring inside of Facebook in a desktop web browser or in the Messenger.com website.

Beyond that, though, it seemed a very straightforward and positive experience.

Now, Facebook Messenger is not the first to do this, of course. Skype has had group audio and video calls for years. As Venturebeat noted, in March of last year Line launched group calling for up to 200 people and WeChat added group audio and video calls in September.

Still, this is Facebook Messenger, with its 900 million users, providing yet another reason to NOT use traditional audio conferencing solutions.

I would suspect, too, that video conferencing can't be too far off, either, given that Facebook Messenger currently does let you do 1:1 video calls - and also that competitors offer group video calls.

It continues to be an absolutely fascinating time to watch the severe disruption of traditional telecommunications... and this move by Facebook is yet another example of how the ways we are communicating are changing.

What do you think? Will you use the group calling within Facebook Messenger?