SpoonFed: Google Voice Not a Threat to Carriers...Yet

Sometimes tech pundits can get carried away. Mere moments after Google announced that its Google Voice service was officially getting an app for Android and BlackBerry smart phones, the blogosphere was abuzz about the big four wireless carriers being on death’s door. “Google Voice—both the application’s potential and the company backing it—should give entrenched wireless operators pause,” wrote Mike Dano of FierceWireless. Om Malik of GigaOM was more direct. “Can Google be your phone company? The answer is yes,”  he posted. Easy, there. Google Voice was designed to unify all of your phone numbers (work, office, mobile) into one to make life easier. Users of the mobile app can make outgoing calls from Google Voice, and we like that the person at the other end of the line can now see your GV number; before you had to dial your GV number from your cell phone first. But this convenience doesn’t necessarily translate into a lower monthly bill. Because calls are routed through your current service provider’s voice network when using the mobile Google Voice app, you’re not going to be able to sign up for a cheaper monthly plan. This is not true VoIP, like the Wi-Fi-only Skype on the iPhone. Where you could realize savings is through international calls. For example, the mobile rate for the United Kingdom is 19 cents per minute, versus 99 cents per minute for AT&T’s World Traveler rate. The more threatening aspect of the GV Mobile app is that it lets users send unlimited text messages for free. Sprint includes unlimited text messaging in its data plans, but AT&T and Verizon Wireless charge an extra $20 per month, whereas T-Mobile charges $15. This app could certainly put pressure on these carriers to lower their rates, or even block Google Voice from working on their networks. Google says it’s working with Apple to bring the GV app to the App Store, but some believe that it will get crippled in some way in order to appease AT&T, if it gets approved at all. Google Voice could certainly teach the carriers a thing or two about how to handle calls and voicemails. When you get an incoming call on GV, your cell phone rings as it normally does, but you’re presented with four options. After you hear the caller’s name (Google does the screening) you can accept the call, put it to straight to voicemail, listen in on the voicemail as its being left, or accept the call and record it. You can even read transcripts of your voicemails on your phone. Is Google Voice a threat to the big four? I would say the Android app is more of a menace than the BlackBerry version, and that’s because the former deeply integrates with your address book and lets you make all calls with Google Voice. But I don’t think Google will become the general consumer’s phone company of choice any time soon. What Google Voice does do, however, is make it even easier to switch carriers. Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP's online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark's SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can also follow him on twitter.

Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.