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Google Voice Goes Mainstream With Sprint Integration

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Sprint today becomes the first U.S. national carrier to integrate Google Voice services across its handset line-up. The network operator’s customers can opt to replace their Sprint (s s) phone number with one from Google Voice (s goog), or if they already have a number with Google, can configure their handset to display that number for outgoing calls and text messages. This optional Google service will be available not only on smartphones, where it is commonly used today, but also on Sprint’s feature phones, as it gradually rolls out.

I find the Google Voice service invaluable, and due to native integration, it’s a key reason why I’ve used both Google’s Android mobile platform and it’s Gmail services for the past several years. For those not familiar, Google Voice allows free calls and texts in the U.S. and Canada, can ring multiple handsets for incoming calls and supports voicemail transcription which forwards messages via email or SMS. In short, it’s an intelligent way to manage voice communications; especially for those with multiple phones or phone numbers. Plus, it offers low-cost international rates, call recording, call blocking, and personalized voice mail greetings for specific callers. And up to now, the service lived in the realm of smartphones.

With full Google Voice integration on all Sprint phones, feature phone users gain the same features that smartphone owners have enjoyed for the past few years. Not every low-end handset has an email client, but they all have text messaging support, so transcribed voicemails can still be routed directly to the phone, for example. And at some point within the next handful of years, as these feature phone owners upgrade to smartphones, they could have Android in their sights as the result of Google’s useful service that makes their “dumb phone” a little smarter.

Sprint likely gains in this deal as well: until another carrier decides to follow, Sprint has another service differentiator to tout. Don’t be surprised if another carrier makes the same move in the future, though. I spoke with Vincent Paquet, senior product manager of Google Voice, by phone, and he told me Google “discusses Google Voice integration with several carriers on a regular basis.” But differentiation isn’t the only benefit for Sprint.

Google Voice integration, when opted in by the customer, replaces Sprint’s existing voicemail service. By partnering with Google, Sprint can reduce costs to develop, maintain or outsource its voicemail service. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Google is actually paying Sprint some small amount for each new Google Voice customer. Google already shares advertising revenues with handset makers and carriers that use the Android mobile operating system; essentially paying companies to use its software. In return for using Android, and perhaps now for Google Voice, the search giant gains more consumer data from those who use its services. Just like traditional web searches on Google, the company gathers data and indexes information from Google Voice, which it can use for targeted advertising.

Since the service has traditionally been associated with smartphones, which don’t yet account for half of all phones in the U.S., the deal with Sprint is helping Google take its service to mainstream consumers. Many of these customers likely have never heard of Google Voice, so the potential audience pool becomes much wider, and that means more information, and more personalized services to offer in the future, for Google from those who opt-in.

9 Responses to “Google Voice Goes Mainstream With Sprint Integration”

  1. John Pugh

    Like you, Kevin, I use GV for voicemail and find the call latency annoying so I use the number sparingly. However, I’ve been using GV voicemail since shortly after having purchased my Nexus One. Along with visual voicemail I can listen to messages via my Chrome browser and not worry about having my phone nearby at all times.

    Note: Call latency doesn’t seem apparent when using GV on a landline.

  2. i would really like to see this on sprint boost and virgin mobile subsidiaries. especially virgin since they have some very attractive plan with unlimited data but limited voice minutes. would be cool to be able to make/receive some calls on another device or through gmail without depleting the minute bucket.

  3. will GV be upgraded to support MMS?

    how will billing work on feature phones. will users be able to send/receive SMS without a plan or per message fees?

    to be honest i kind of like google and the carriers playing against each other for customer loyalty. over the long term this could result in less value as it takes away a bit of competition over who owns the phone number.

    on the other hand maybe google should buy sprint/clearwire outright. they could than build out a nationwide 4G network for use(maybe ‘free’) by chrome OS computers and android tablets.

  4. I have to say that, after having used Sprint about 10 years ago and coming away hating Sprint (poor quality and an accounting department that seemed to enjoy harassing people — not just me — over fictitious unpaid bills) I swore I wouldn’t even think of using Sprint again. But I like Google voice … so I’m doing the unthinkable and thinking about Sprint … but I’m still going to wait to see if someone else takes up up Google Voice.

  5. so do outbound calls still go through google’s servers? or will sprint send the call straight out and spoof the caller ID?

    if the latter this will help fix some of the call quality issues that have been coming up lately with GV, since it eliminates an unnecessary hop in the call route.

    • From my understanding and conversation with the Google folks, once a customer opts in for the integration on a feature phone, calls will go through Google Voice. On the smartphone, users should still be able to configure if they want to use GV for the call. I rarely use GV for my voice calls simply because I find a lag in the conversation. I’ll be interested in trying a Sprint phone after this integration to see if that lag is still there as that would likely clarify how this is going to work on the back end.

      • i used to make all outbound through GV, i almost never do these days because of severe call quality issues. on at least 1 out of 3 inbound calls to my GV number i call back(without GV) for the same reason. the best solution would be for sprint to spoof the caller ID to the GV number.

        another question is if the customer uses an existing sprint number for GV what happens when they leave the sprint? does the mobile number automatically become a regular GV number?

      • John Selden

        Yes, the voice lag when using Google Voice on a cell phone is intolerable. I’ve stopped forwarding my Google Voice calls to my cell phone for that reason, which entirely undermines the “one phone number” aspect of Google Voice. It would be nice if calls would stay exclusively on Sprint’s network, but that seems unlikely.

        I also wonder what happens to MMS functionality. Since Google Voice doesn’t support MMS, do you lose that feature once you sign up for this Sprint integration?

        These kinds of details will affect how widely this feature is adopted.