Google Voice and How Anyone Can Be a Phone Company

Google (s goog) is “just scratching the surface” with Google Voice, Bradley Horowitz, VP of Product Management, said today on, and will move aggressively next year to further blur the line between telephony and the Internet. And as the search giant turns voice into an application and dives deeper into carriers’ domain, network operators will have to find ways to leverage their networks and provide competing apps and services or be relegated to simply pushing other companies’ offerings through their pipes.

Google is gearing up to do battle with Cisco (s csco) and Microsoft (s msft) in the unified communications market. The company recently acquired Gizmo5, a SIP-based service provider, as part of its effort to build an enterprise-quality VoIP offering. And Gizmo5’s expertise in soft clients can help Google extend its mobile reach, potentially allowing the company to offer Google Voice across a host of devices.

As the recent acquisitions of Ribbit by BT and Jajah by O2/Telefonica demonstrate, voice is increasingly being turned into an application from service providers. Those acquisitions are aimed in part at helping users communicate from their phones in a variety of ways, from traditional telephony to Internet-based services like e-mail, instant messaging, VoIP and social networks.

But while savvy carriers are beginning to acquire startups to better compete in the brave new world of web-based communication, behemoths like Google, Microsoft and Cisco are coming at the market from an application point of view. Divorcing voice from the network is liberating for consumers who could enjoy a host of ways to communicate seamlessly and efficiently, but it also opens the field to non-operators. Operators that can leverage both the Internet and their own networks to deliver optimized, personalized services will be able to compete with the players moving into telecom. Those that don’t will quickly find themselves doing nothing but shipping data over their networks.

Image courtesy Flickr user danndalf.