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Google Voice is launched: the market Verizon missed

Almost two years after Google bought the startup GrandCentral they have now launched their repackaged services under the brand Google Voice on the U.S. market. With Google Voice you can manage your telephony via the web and they have developed a suite of interesting but rather obvious services around call forwarding and voicemail. Google Voice is an example of the emerging market for Telecom2, a market that already contains a number of startups such as Blyk, Fring, Truephone, Jott, Jaiku, Lypp, Spinvox, Zyb, and Ribbit. Some of them have already been acquired by large players such as BT, Vodafone and Google.

Google Voice’s core offer is ”one phone number for life”. New customers get a phone number which is connected to their server and from a web interface the user can forward the call to one or several of his/her fixed or mobile phones. Via the web it is possible to manage all your incoming voicemails, SMS, missed calls, etc. with an interface that resembles Gmail (Google states that a future full integration with Gmail is planned).

Voicemails in English are translated to text and the user can choose to receive them as SMS, email or read them on the web. Incoming calls can be managed by a menu: “press 1 to respond, press 2 to send to voicemail, press 3 to listen to incoming message, press 4 to respond and record the call”. Different outgoing voicemail messages can be used depending on if the call is from your boss or your parents. It is also possible to block certain numbers late at night. Outgoing domestic calls (including conference calls) are free and the international tariffs are much lower than SkypeOut.

Both the technology and the ideas for this have been around for a long time. Call forwarding with *21* has been available since the 80s (if I recall correctly). The Unified Mailbox was a compelling vision in the late 90s, and number portability has also existed for over a decade.

If the telco operators hadn’t been so slow to innovate they could have been able to do this themselves, or bought GrandCentral two years ago. Google and all the other Telco2 startups are now running rings around the telcos because IP and the web make it much easier to quickly deploy new services. As long as the telcos stay stuck in a worldview w here every new services have to be built on an industrial scale and integrated in the network before they can be launched it is inevitable that they will continue to lose out to more agile players.

And on the few occasions when the telcos develop innovative services they shoot themselves in the foot by developing proprietary systems, locking in the users, and overcharging. One example is iobi from Verizon that was launched in 2004 – one year before GrandCentral. The service is similar to GrandCentral/GoogleVoice but is only available to Verizon customers. Their high monthly fees ($7.95 for consumers and $11.95 for businesses) prevent iobi from becoming a mass market leader and they have not licensed the software platform to any other players. The fact that customers will lose all their personal data if they cancel the service makes it even more unattractive to sign up with iobi.

This article has previously been published on my Swedish blog.

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