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WhatsApp going into voice Jan Koum tells MWC

It wasn’t quite a stoney silence, more a polite but restrained toleration. Koum, taking his keynote, announced what most had taken as the inevitable. WhatsApp was going to introduce voice calliing for its users some time in the second quarter… so, pretty-much immediately. There was a whoop at one point in Koum’s address and the whooper was thanked, but apart from that… lead balloon territory.

Hardly surprising given the news about the voice service. This was obviously just the sort of thing an assembly of mobile executives want to hear. But then there was the crumpled old jeans: was there a clothing problem? The audience was pretty much sober-suited. Zuckerberg is always dressed casually but you feel that the teeshirt is probably clean on. Koum? Not so sure.

The message? For a man who specialises in them his message was somewhat lacking. I suppose I was expecting something placatory for the assembled telecoms specialists to chew on, after all they think he’s eating their lunch so the least he could offer was a mouthful or two back But no… nothing like that. No word on how we could all work together… room for everyone and so on. We mostly got back-story.

Koum was brought up in the Soviet Union (cue violins). Times were hard but the Koum family had one thing in their favour. A telephone in their flat. It was a sociable time; everyone helped everyone else so it wasn’t unusual for friends and friends of friends from the tower block to call by to use the phone.

The point was, people found it hard to communicate with their nearest and dearest. Young Jan resolved to solve that problem when he grew up and became a billionaire. Founding WhatsApp is how he followed through: connecting people without limits and without their having to walk down the stairs to beg to use someone else’s phone.

So the message? He’s not about the money - he wants to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, just like Coca Cola (which isn’t about the money either).

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