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In an announcement appearing on the Google Voice Blog, Google said the application would be available to download for free for the first time today on Apple's iTunes store. The move comes more than a year after the Federal Communications Commission launched an inquiry into why Google Voice was not available on the iPhone. Apple at the time said it had not "rejected" Google Voice but had rather not yet approved it because "it appears to alter the iPhone's distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone's core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail."
Google Voice was designed in part to make it easier for users to change mobile carriers without sacrificing their phone numbers and also to give users several add-on features that are not offered by carriers. For example, Google Voice can provide simultaneous ringing for both landline and wireless devices using the same phone number and it can serve 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. Net neutrality proponents such as the media advocacy group Free Press have met Google Voice with enthusiasm, as they think it could give users the ability to seamlessly switch carriers if their current carrier is too restrictive of what they can and cannot use on their mobile devices.
Verizon and AT&T have both gradually come around to letting Google Voice and other third-party voice applications onto their networks and devices. Last year, Verizon said Google Voice would be installed onto all Android-based devices running on its network. And although Google Voice didn't make it on the iPhone until today, AT&T did give the green light last year for VoIP applications such as Skype to run on the iPhone.
The decision to allow third-party voice applications onto their networks reflects an acceptance by carriers that they soon won't be able to charge for minute-based cellular voice plans and will have to change their billing plans to focus exclusively on data consumption. AT&T got the ball rolling earlier this year when it announced it was dropping unlimited data plans for the iPhone in favor of plans that offered between 200MB and 2GB of data consumption per month. Verizon shortly followed suit by saying it would implement a similar pricing scheme for its 4G LTE services that are due to launch later this year. Verizon COO Lowell McAdam hinted earlier this year that LTE plans would give users a certain amount of data they could consume every month before they would have to pay overage fees.
Read more about wireless & mobile in Network World's Wireless & Mobile section.