mocoNews - Google Voice Service Takes Aim At Telephone Companies

Dianne See Morrison
Thursday, March 12, 2009; 5:59 PM

Google (NSDQ: GOOG) has launched a new service called Voice that could end up challenging a number of mobile and internet telephone services, if it succeeds. The free service, announced on its blog Thursday night, is a reworking of Grand Central, the startup the search giant bought 20 months ago. It improves on GrandCentral's main offering of giving users one single phone number in which all of their other phone numbers?work, home, cellphone, for example, get routed to. Google Voice also lets users manage multiple voice mail systems, by again, streaming them into one place. It converts voicemails to text, and even better, it archives transcripts of voicemails and text messages, which are all searchable.

Google Voice will let users make cheap, internet calls from any phone, including their cell phones. Phone calls will be free in the U.S., and a fraction of current telephone company fees to call internationally. In fact, Vincent Paquet, a co-founder of GrandCentral and now a senior product manager at Google, told the that he expects the service to earn enough from internet fees for calls to support the service, which will not carry ads. So far, it is available only to existing U.S. GrandCentral users, but Google plans to open the service up to all users "soon."

Analysts are divided on how much of an impact Google Voice will have on the domestic and international calling business, though some believe that of all the features, it's the ability to offer free internet calls that could be the game changer. It's true that cheap internet calls aren't a new concept. Skype, Vonage, and Comcast all offer the service, among numerous others. The NYTimes wrote that it is Google's potential to reach a mass audience that could make the difference, and namely its "ability to bring all kinds of people into their new tools from their existing tools." One thing is for sure; Google is not making itself popular with mobile operators, or fixed line providers as it tries to ensure that its dominance spreads to the mobile internet.

While no one may yet be able to quantify in numbers how much Google Voice might cut into domestic and international call revenues, telecoms companies will not be happy with this latest threat. Skype, which could be considered one of Google Voice's biggest competitors in internet calls, has been making its own moves into mobile. It's deal, announced last month, with Nokia (NYSE: NOK) to come pre-loaded on its upcoming N97 flagship device has already incurred the displeasure of mobile operators, with Nokia taking some of the heat as well.


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