So it looks like Google Voice will be publicly available soon. Reports have it that they have reserved 1M phone numbers with voip wholesaler Level 3 Communications (NYSE:LVLT, news, filings), and there’s no reason to do that unless you’re planning to cut the ribbon and open the doors. However, I’m still trying to figure out what effects Google’s expected launch of this product will have on the market:
The idea behind Google Voice is to add some unity to all the various devices we use these days to communicate – home phones, cell phones, email, text messaging, etc. Some claim the services has changed the way they communicate at a fundamental level. I have to admit I’m tempted to give it a go myself, given the time I spend travelling and between various phone numbers and devices.
On the other hand, I sometimes look at it this way. Before Google Voice, there were a bunch of devices and accounts with various service providers. After Google Voice, there will be exactly the same bunch of devices and accounts with various service providers. The only new things seems to be a) a free account with Google, and b) and happier, more empowered users of all those devices. Not a bad thing of course, but economically the effect is not immediately disruptive.
On another note, several have asked me if Google Voice could be behind the big contract Level 3 disclosed last week. My feeling is that it isn’t related. Why? Quite simply, the 20 year term. You don’t sign up for a 20 year contract for anything related to voice, it’s just the wrong timescale. There is a tendency to think that a big company must mean a big contract, but it doesn’t really work that way. The traffic associated with voice – even huge amounts of voice – just isn’t enough to require a huge infrastructure deal. Google can self provide most of Google Voice and is likely choosing Level 3 VoIP services in an a la carte fashion. Even if Google Voice catches on big, it will be a long time before it requires this sort of opex – a long term pre-purchase doesn’t make sense in the context of a product that may or may not catch on.
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