Google has positioned itself to take on Skype by rolling out a new feature for its Gmail service that allows users to call any telephone direct from their email account.

Software engineer Rob Schriebman said all American users should see the Call Phone button appear in their video and voice chat box over the next few days.

They will be able to dial up any number and calls within the US and Canada will be free of charge for "at least the rest of the year".

Mr Schriebman added that Google is also offering rates starting from $0.02 per minute for phoning countries like the UK, Germany, Japan and France.

People who already have a Google Voice phone number can also choose to receive calls within the Gmail service.

The expert said internal testing of the new calling feature had shown it to be useful "in a lot of situations, ranging from making a quick call to a restaurant to placing a call when you're in an area with bad reception".

Elsewhere, Google announced in May that it had starting rolling out click-to-call phone numbers for online marketing services targeting mobile users via the Google Content Network.

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