Japan's DeNA launches free international calling app for smartphones

The Japanese game company said it hopes to eventually combine its new "comm" service with its gaming platform

DeNA, a major mobile platform operator based in Japan, on Tuesday announced a new international calling service for smartphones.

The company said its "comm" service will allow online calls for users of the app in 204 countries, including the U.S., Japan, and parts of Europe and Asia. The service has a web page with basic information in English and Japanese, but requires an app available from both iTunes and the Google Play store to operate.

While the market is full of similar offerings such as Skype, Apple's own FaceTime, and Line, a popular Japanese messaging service, DeNA already operates a large mobile gaming platform, Mobage, which it says has 30 million players globally. The company said it eventually plans to combine the two offerings, which could lead to an interesting mix of gaming and voice chat on mobile phones.

DeNA said it will require users to sign up with their real names rather than IDs or nicknames, allowing it to create a searchable database for users to easily locate their friends and acquaintances. The company privacy policy states that it tracks and records user-provided information as well as other data such as location gleaned from mobile phones and may sell it to advertisers.

The company's new service also includes text chat that works with phones that don't have the app, and a photo-sharing feature. DeNA said its service uses a client-server architecture rather than a peer-to-peer setup for better quality and provides a higher-level encoding than some standard mobile phones, without providing details.

DeNA is one of several aggressive Japanese mobile platform operators pushing hard to expand outside of the country. The company acquired U.S. game firm ngmoco and has signed content deals with major operators worldwide. It also operates business ventures with game developers like Namco.

A main competitor is Gree, which operates its own mobile platform with major titles from large game developers and acquired U.S. platform operator OpenFeint last year.

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