Skype finally catches Google with group video chat

Has it finally fixed mobile video issues?

Skype will finally provide group video chat for mobile phones, nearly three years after Google offered it with Hangouts.

The VoIP pioneer that was bought by Microsoft for $8.5bn back in 2011 has been decidedly slow in getting the service to market, but that didn't prevent it from comparing itself to NASA.

"Ten years ago, NASA's Stardust mission successfully brought back interstellar dust from a comet and the cloud existed only in the sky," reads a blog post announcing the service. "That same year, Skype launched a new innovation – free video calling."

It also notes to itself that it was the first to offer one-to-one video calling on mobile – six years ago. Although it doesn't find time to reflect on the reconfiguration of its entire network undertaken by Microsoft, which has led to years of complaints about video quality over phones, or the fact that Microsoft initially tried to get people to pay $5 a month for the previously free group video chat on desktops.

Regardless, group video chat on mobile devices is a welcome move and the company said it would roll out to Windows 10, Android and iOS devices. It hasn't said when exactly and is instead asking customers to "pre-register" by providing their email, Skype names, country and device.

"We'll use your information to set you up with group video calling on your mobile and will send you an email when we're done," reads the message after you have registered.

Market moves

By offering group video chat, Skype puts more distance between itself and Apple's Facetime. Apple still offers one-to-one communication and only on Apple devices, although it is known for persistently higher quality calls. Presumably the long delay in group video over mobile is due to the company working on its mobile video quality. We will have to wait and see.

Google's Hangouts, which launched in May 2013, still remains the best overall service however, offering voice and video on all devices, one-to-one and groups.

Despite that however, due to Skype being the first and even entering the language ("I'll Skype you"), it retains a huge installed base – 750 million people have downloaded Skype mobile apps according to the company – and this move should ensure that its customers have fewer reasons to try out competitors. ®

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