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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Google Voice and idle speculation about VoIP partnerships....

Google has launched its revamped Voice service, formed on the basis of its GrandCentral acquisition. At the moment it looks like it's mostly PC-based, and dovetails with Gmail.

Predictably, the world & his dog are putting two and two together (Voice + Android) and calling it the death knell for the operator as a "voice pipe" by using an mVoIP work-around.

For various reasons, this seems implausible in the short term - not least the low likelihood of any two people both having Android phones, with flatrate data, and HSUPA coverage, and sufficient battery power to run not both the OS but all the voice processing and so forth.

The other option is some sort of callthrough / callback option using circuit calls, perhaps subsidised by adverts. This might work in the US, but elsewhere in the world the interconnect fees to mobile numbers are prohibitively high.

Maybe Google's got some clever voice-recognition technology that could pick out words in phone conversations ("restaurant", "flight", "car", "gig"), which coupled with lax privacy rules could allow some clever advertising or other services, along the lines of Pudding Media's proposals from a year ago, or indeed, my own from three years past. Maybe that could subsidise termination fees at some point.

In any case, an Android / Google Voice pairing would probably make last week's hoo-ha about Nokia+Skype look comparatively trivial from an operator standpoint. Or at least it would if anyone actually gets around to developing desirable/capable Android phones.

But to me, [and this is total & utter random speculation on my part] the real deal would be if at some point Apple partnered with (or, better, acquired) Skype or BT/Ribbit or Truphone or someone like that. Then the cat would be well & truly among the pigeons.....


ceedee said...

A few years ago, the idea of 'unlimited' data (1-3GB/mth) allowances and operators encouraging instant messaging and video streaming seemed inconceivable.
Isn't it inevitable that sooner or later, an operator will offer a data-only contract with an Android phone?
At that point, an integrated communications package of Google Voice, GTalk, Jaiku and Google Maps would be just what I'd be looking for.

Dean Bubley said...

Why do you need to wait for an operator to launch it?

Why not get a G1, unlock it, and put a data-only SIM in it, or at least a prepaid one which you just use for monthly flatrate data?

But anyway, why that might work for you, there are plenty of other reasons why it would not for most people:

1) Desirability of having a specific mobile phone number 07xxx, rather than a VoIP number (eg 03xxx). Obviously that depends on your country & how they assign numbers.
2) Does SMS work properly on G Voice? Or the G phone, for that matter?
3) How well does it integrate with other non-Google services like Yahoo Mail, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, operator-specific music stores etc?
4) What do you do when you're out of 3G coverage and drop back to 2G?
5) What do you do when you're roaming and it costs £10/MB?
6) Can you do number portability into G Voice?
7) What about your other phone, presumably that will still be circuit-based?


ceedee said...

Excuse the extended response but I'm keen to gain from your perspective.

If I wanted to risk offending my operator and potentially voiding the phone's warranty, I *could* go data-only now but my point was that once operators offer an Android-based, data package, then Google might be motivated to bundle their services into a worthwhile (and disruptive, if not revolutionary) integrated communications centre based on GVoice.

1) My voip service in common with every one I've reviewed offers a geographic number (eg. +44 207 xxxx) that can be routed to my phone (for 'free') via sip. But isn't the whole point of GVoice to receive inbound calls through one number where you then control it's handling and the receiving device?
2) I've not heard of any problems with SMS through the existing GrandCentral services nor with receiving them on the G-1. Have you?
3) Not sure I understand your point. Why would a data-only contract interfere with those services? As far as I've heard, they all function okay with the G-1?
4) The same that happens when you lose 2G coverage -- missed calls revert to voicemail? 3G coverage for the 'big 4' in the UK is over 90% and rising fast in many European countries. I've no idea what the situation will be with the progression to the various 4G propositions but generally coverage will improve rather than reduce?
5) Switch to an operator with a more reasonable roaming deal (eg. 3UK) or buy a local PAYG data SIM as most commentators already recommend with regard to cheaper voice calls.
6) I believe that can be done by (at least) one provider offering a similar service to GVoice so I'd guess that Google could too. Alternatively I expect you could forward the calls to the GVoice account.
7) I'm rarely out of 3G coverage for more than 10 minutes at a time so would probably not carry a second phone.

The idea of switching away from the 'voice-pipe' might seem cranky right now but surely can't be written off for the (not too distant) future?

Anonymous said...

Linking 1) and 5) :

Would this not have the advantage that when roaming overseas you could use a local data SIM for cost effectiveness, and still have calls routed (at no additional cost to you or the calling party) to your 'home' number?

Anonymous said...

From what I can see of the upgraded GoogleVoice, comments about GV/Android total world domination are premature.

From a practical point-of-view GV is still for Americans only (only US numbers accepted), apart from being able to connect to Gizmo. Why Gizmo, we don't know? Without a way to pass calls to mainstream SIP-based networks, or to non-US numbers, the opportunities for interoperating with other disruptive services are rather limited right now.

Dean Bubley said...

Apologies for the late replies:

HeavyLight - without going into too much detail (for free, at least)

There are very few data-only *handset* offers from carriers that I'm aware of, excluding some data-only BlackBerry plans. I also use a 3 prepay SIM in the UK, which I use solely for monthly mobile Internet access.

1+2 are important - there are very few people who will send an SMS to a visibly non-mobile number (apart from a shortcode). If you don't have an 07xxx number, most normal people will think you are not mobile.

It will be critical for the SMS experience to "just work" without changes to user (or sender) behaviour.

3 - yes, they should certainly work OK in isolation, but what happens when they are running simultaneously? Do you run into issues like shared SIP stacks? And what about the "native" integration on the phone - ie could you trigger a GVoice call from inside a Yahoo or Facebook contact list?

3G coverage *indoors* is not at 90%+. Neither is coverage an indicator or either capacity or achievable speed/latency. 4G in the UK is likely to appear first in the 2.6GHz band (regulatory / legal wrangling permitting), which will make matters worse.

5 - if you can find me a PAYG data SIM in the US, I'll bite your arm off for it. Even elsewhere it's not that easy - I posted a while back on the hassle I undertook to get a Yoigo SIM in Barcelona.

6 - You can only port a UK mobile number to another mobile operator or MVNO.

7 - That sort of makes you unusual, given that the average person in the UK has 1.6 phones....

btw - if you are representing a large firm & may be interested in formal consulting or advisory input on this, please get in touch.


Anonymous said...

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