WhatsApp to Add Voice to Messaging Service

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -

WhatsApp, the popular messaging service for smartphones that’s being acquired by Facebook, will soon be offering a voice service.

CEO Jan Koum said the voice service will be deployed for Android and iPhone this spring, with Blackberry and Microsoft and Nokia phones coming later.

“We are going to introduce voice in WhatsApp in the second quarter of this year,” Koum said at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. “I think we have the best voice product out there. We use the least amount of bandwidth.”

WhatsApp currently has a voice function, but only in note form. This new service will be live.

On Wednesday, Facebook agreed to buy WhatsApp for $19 billion, in a deal that is by far the biggest by the social networking company and bigger than any done by Google, Microsoft or Apple.

The blockbuster deal made serious waves with those in the telecommunications industry who gathered this week in the Catalan city, but also sparked concern among users that Facebook would introduce advertising to WhatsApp.

Koum insisted that there are no designs to add “marketing” to the messaging service.

“There are no planned changes,” said Koum.

Facebook is paying $12 billion in stock and $4 billion in cash for WhatsApp. Koum, along with fellow founder Brian Acton and their 55 employees, was also granted restricted stock worth $3 billion that will vest over four years after the deal closes.

Koum said that he didn’t expect that WhatsApp’s staff would grow in number very much, saying that “we want to operate as a startup.”

Relatively unknown until now in the U.S., WhatsApp is popular in other countries, both in Europe and in emerging economies. The Mountain View, California, startup already has almost twice as many users as the better-known short messaging service, Twitter.

WhatsApp has 465 million monthly users and 330 million daily users, according to Koum. It is ad-free and costs users 99 cents a year after a first free year.