Meet Google, Your Phone Company

90 Comments

[qi:gigaom_icon_voip] Can Google (s Goog) be your phone company? The answer is yes. I came to that conclusion after I met with Vincent Paquet, co-founder of GrandCentral (a company acquired by Google) and now a member of the Google Voice team. Earlier today he stopped by our office to show the mobile app versions of its Google Voice service for Blackberry (s RIMM) and Android. Google recently announced that it was going to make the Voice service widely available to users in the U.S. soon.

These mobile versions of the Google Voice service will allow folks to not only manage their Google Voice connections –- to access and playback voice mails, send and receives SMS messages and read message transcripts — but also make local and long distance calls from mobile phones. The apps are fully integrated with each phone’s contacts, so you can call via Google Voice straight from your address book. This is how it works:

androidgooglevoiceThe mobile app for Google Voice uses the regular PSTN connection to place a call to Google Voice, which then places a call out to the person you need to reach. Since these calls (and SMS messages) originate from your Google Voice, they display your Google Voice number for the recipients. The service needs a data connection but it isn’t necessary to have a Wi-Fi connection to place and receive calls. The wireless number you buy from the cell phone company becomes less relevant.

The Google Voice app essentially reduces the cell phone carrier to a dumb pipe. While the BlackBerry application is interesting, it’s the Android application that shows that Google has bigger designs. I have been playing around with the Android App for about an hour or so and I can see the broader implications. When I was setting up the app, one of the options I was given: to make all calls through Google Voice. And that’s when I thought to myself: Oh! OH!

The app is so tightly enmeshed with Android OS and the address book and other apps, you hardly think that you’re using Google Voice. If Google bundles the Google Voice app with Android and sells it to makers of cheaper feature phones, it can start to insert itself between the consumers and wireless companies.

This “man in the middle” position is Google’s strength. The company has inserted itself between consumers and information via its search offering and profited handsomely from it. Why can’t it do the same with this voice offering? There is anecdotal evidence that some consumers might actually be happy paying for their mobile service by listening to advertisements.

To be sure, Google Voice isn’t the first such service. Truphone and a handful of other startups offer similar services, but Google’s sheer size is what makes this a pretty interesting move. They also have a mobile OS and connections with handset makers such as HTC to get serious traction. In this summer of a lot of hot air from Google — Google Wave and Google Chrome OS, for example — this is the first interesting product with larger implications. Suddenly the idea of Google as my phone company doesn’t sound so preposterous.

90 Comments

miami photographer

I’m interested in Google Voice as a SMS alternative. My family is on Verizon for three phones. We need to switch. When is it available?

Zahara

My tmobile g1 looks almost exactly like that. It’s really cool, I love it. It even tells me who a voicemail is from if I have one. text messages scroll at the top. Voice clarity is great. You can chose between using the physical keyboard or on screen keyboard at any time. Best part about it… unlike the iphone, we get updates for free, instead of having to buy a whole new phone.

Avazed

Very interesting concept, linking all your numbers to one place. In the long run, people who want to call you shouldn’t worry about which number to use or which device to call (your mobile or home or office), they should be calling a person, not a device. So there should only be one number per person for life, and we should be able to decide which device should ring depending on where we are at any given time! Google is getting us one step closer to that by linking all our current phones to just one number…

But the thing that Google hasn’t been able to do though, is to link people’s *old* phone numbers to the google number. Or their old emails, or skype IDs, or all the other online ID’s. Ideally, we would want to get our one and only google number to “replace” all those other bulky or outdated contact alternatives too… Btw, http://www.avakit.com is a great help with that, highly recommended!

Andy

I just got my invite to Google Voice! I’m pretty anxious to try the service. I was bummed when I got locked out of beta testing.

ike

please how long did it take you to get your invite and when did you sign up, i’m still waiting for my invite i just wanted to know how long it will take to get mine, i signed up for an invite about 2 weeks ago. Thank you.

LawyerN

There are many laws and societal understandings surrounding phone calls. At what point does a text message with voice, or SMS/voicemail, or SIP data conversation, or whatever it’s called when the data bits are exchanged between 2 or more people, when does it become a “phone call”. I am saying this because it’s not an issue of paying … we will be paying don’t deny it … the issue is to whom we will be paying. The more see google (secret govt agency people) or other firm drop one cost there will be another firm finding ways to increase cost. For example, I can very easily see NY State creating taxes for the data bits that enter the state. Or our country for data bits entering our country. Their might even be a new international organization that sets the rates and has it’s own legal arm to enforce it’s decisions. You think I’m crazy … If you said 100 years ago that man would fly 1/2 way round the world in airplane that takes 20 hours … it’s not crazy it’s forward thinking.

tom

typically you pay airtime for callback(the way GV works) even if the number you are calling is busy or unavailable. this is another major problem for users who do not have unlimited voice minutes.

i saw a few news reports about this on TV yesterday. everytime it was falsely reported as being a ‘free phone service’ talk along the lines of ‘no longer having to pay a cell phone bill’ were used by the newscasters.

Maha

Google on its way to give some tough time to the operators and VoIP services ..

Petabro

Google cannot be my phone company. I may use the service though. I hope this is not a case of too much Skype/iPhone envy

rainaarcane

@everyone
just imagine …what if google asks you to start paying for all it’s so called free services…… over dependence on google could lead to a disaster……….

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