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FAQ: How Google Voice could change the wireless industry

Google hopes its voice platform will turn telcos into “dumb pipes”

By Brad Reed, Network World
July 16, 2009 03:00 PM ET

Network World -
Google began ramping up its efforts to promote Google Voice application this week by making it available for BlackBerry and Android smartphone users.

Google Voice is the company's latest attempt to shake up the wireless telecom industry and is a follow-up of sorts to its open-source Android mobile platform. Just as Android was developed in part to spur innovation within the mobile development community and also to give users the ability to switch to new carriers without swapping their mobile devices, Google Voice was created in part to make it easier for users to change mobile carriers without sacrificing their phone numbers. In this FAQ, we'll discuss what Google Voice does, how it's different from other Web-based voice providers and how it could challenge the telecom industry to add more value to its services. (See also: Google grabs 1 million phone numbers for Google Voice)

Is Google Voice another VoIP-based service such as Skype or Truphone that offers low-cost wireless calls?

No. When you make a call with Google Voice it initially goes through the standard public switch telephone network to the Google cloud. From there, Google sends the call to its final destination. This way, the person receiving your call sees the it coming from your Google phone number rather than the number given by your wireless carrier. Additionally, Google Voice can use VoIP technology to route calls internationally and offer international rates that are vastly cheaper than those offered by the major telcos.

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Does this mean that I'll still have to pay my wireless carrier for minutes used over Google Voice?

Yes. Unlike VoIP services such as Skype, Google Voice is not an alternative to using up minutes from your standard wireless carrier.

So what's the advantage?

The most obvious benefit of Google Voice is that it lets you switch wireless carriers and keep the same Google phone number. Thus, if you switch from AT&T to Verizon, you can still give people your Google number and have it ring on your new service.

And then there are all the add-ons. You can program your Google phone number to ring on multiple devices if you want to, including both mobile and landline phones. This way, an important incoming call to your office can also ring simultaneously on your cell phone and your home phone if you happen to be away from your desk.

"Google Voice is trying to become a unified voice communications service for consumers, especially those who are on the go a lot," explain Jeff Orr, an analyst for ABI Research. "In general it's trying to solve the problem of having multiple contact points, so it's developed a ‘follow-me' service that unifies both wireless and wireline communications."

In addition to providing one number for voice calls, Google Voice also serves as a hub for SMS as it lets users send text messages from any of their devices or even right over the Web on their computer. And as far as voicemail goes, Google Voice has the ability to provide automated voicemail transcriptions that can be sent through both SMS and through standard email. This means that users can get the general gist of a voicemail without dialing into their voicemail service and listening through an entire message.

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