20 March, 2009
Last week, the US Internet giant launched a free telecommunications service, Google Voice, that could get network operators hot under the collar. I spoke to the man in charge of the project.
After Google acquired GrandCentral in 2007, the service offered by the unified communications company seemed to die. For nearly two years, there appeared to be little going on. GrandCentral users began to worry that Google had shuttered the project.
It hadn’t. Far from it, in fact. Last week, Google revealed that GrandCentral was being rebranded as Google Voice, signalling the Web search giant’s intention to become a serious player in telecoms.
The service will become available to US consumers in the next few weeks.
Calls to US numbers will be free and international rates will be dirt cheap. Google’s move will result in its competing head-on with Skype, one of the early pioneers of Internet telephony. Skype is used by millions of people around the world.
GrandCentral cofounder Craig Walker, who I spoke to on Friday via a teleconference call to the Googleplex campus in Silicon Valley, plays down a suggestion that the new service is a threat to telecom operators. But I think one should take this with a pinch of salt - after all, Google will offer free calls in the US and dirt-cheap international dialling, undermining telecom carriers’ revenues to at least some extent.
Walker insists that the service should rather be seen in the context of the company’s goal of organising the world’s information and making it usable.Here’s how it works. Google provides you with a unique telephone number, which you then use as your primary contact number. The company operates a software switch that routes calls you receive on your Google-issued number to numbers you specify on the company’s website - you can have as many as six numbers ring at the same time.
It allows you to have certain phones ring at certain times only, or have certain numbers routed to voicemail.
When someone calls your Google number, it is routed through Google’s switch to the number or numbers you have specified. You are then given the option of accepting the call, sending it to voicemail, listening to the voicemail as it’s being recorded, or accepting the call and recording it. All for no charge.
Outgoing calls to US numbers are also free. When you’re on the Web and you click on someone’s number in your address book or in your e-mail in-box, Google calls you back and bridges the two calls. Gratis.
Then there’s the voicemail service. Google says it can convert voicemail into text. I’m not sure how accurate voice-to-text conversion will prove to be but it’s an exciting development that should allow users to search easily through their voicemail. Again, free.
Walker says Google has no plan to charge for any aspect of the service. There is also no intention of subsidising its cost by selling advertising around calls. Advertising is Google’s bread and butter, but the company appears to be happy to run the service at a loss while it builds a critical mass of users - and tries to reinvent the entire telecom ecosystem while it’s at it.
The service is aimed at end consumers only, and will not be marketed to businesses. This may prove to be a smart move. It’s the same strategy that helped make Microsoft the success it is today: get consumers hooked and soon companies won’t be able to ignore you.
Source: My BroadbandGoogle Voice FeaturesGet an Invitation