Google, Gmail, and Voice


googlevoice-logo I write a lot about Google Voice. I am am a user of the service, and I respect its potential disruption to the enterprise telecom space. I am a big fan in general of virtual number services and believe the model will emerge as a default solution for many types of organizations. It rides two powerful waves: The cloud (pay as you, as a service, no capital, feature rich, etc.) and mobility (make that cell phone or smart phone earns its keep). The stars are aligning rapidly, but the solution is still somewhat niche.

Google Voice is the 800 lbs gorilla that will change this. Currently, it is packaged and positioned as a consumer service with no clear revenue model. It is a curiosity, and the telerati were quick to embrace it. Several companies are implementing fee based virtual number services and their customers are quickly realizing the power of the model. Commercial offerings are available from:

  • Ringio
  • RingCentral
  • GrassHopper
  • (
  • Twilio (OpenVBX) (overlapping, but different offering)

I plan to blog more about how these services differ, but this post is about the big G (as in gorilla). My news coverage of the Gmail Calling Phones service can be found at NoJitter: Google Goes VoIP.

The recurring theme in my posts is pretty clear: Google will totally disrupt the enterprise communications space with a business offering of Google Voice. It will completely change the enterprise communications (PBX, UC, Key) equipment market in both features and economics. Google appears to be in no rush to do this, but the visible actions the company is taking – as well as ironically the direction of the equipment vendors, creates to me, a pretty clear picture.

When you think of a business that is secretive of its plans, Apple usually comes to mind. But Google is the master. Its employees don’t chat, and the company is far more effective at controlling leaks than other major firms. The recent Google Voice/Gmail news had little warning. There were a few leaks around a possible dialing client at TechCrunch, but nothing about how the service could/would work or when.

Google is secretive because it can be. Google doesn’t need to build buzz, and when when they want to say something it gets covered. Keeping quiet works to Google’s benefit, unlike startups or smaller firms that need to build awareness. Doing a search today for “news items” relating to “Gmail ‘Google Voice’” I get 1570 results in the past week. For proof, look no further than over 1 million calls placed during the first 24 hours of the service (it took them longer to roll out the service).

The vast majority of the news articles are effectively the same story. Google launches new service, this is how it works, and this is why its cool. Very few actually discuss the trajectory of the announcement. Let’s take a look at that trajectory:

  • Google building its enterprise offerings
    • Gmail adoption in businesses, Universities, and local/regional Governments growing
    • Google Apps growing – this is the first year it was positioned as an MS Office Alternative
  • The UC industry is racing toward comprehensive solutions that tie together the following communication types:
    • Messaging (email and voice mail)
    • Presence/IM
    • Calendaring
    • Video
    • Collaboration
    • Mobility
  • The first Android phone did not support Exchange – today’s Android phones are positioned as enterprise ready.
  • Google is using Gmail as a launch pad for other services; such as Google Buzz.
  • Skype announces its IPO – a whole business model built around free VoIP
  • Google acquires GIPS and ON2 providing them the necessary real time tools for a comprehensive voice and video suite.
  • Google acquires Gizmo with SIP, PSTN, and gateway services for IM

Google confirmed it expects to offer a similar voice service for Google Apps. There is little question it is coming. The question is its impact and that will have a lot with pricing. A full blown voice offering from Google, combined with Google’s existing suite of communications tools will create havoc – among many industries that don’t currently compete:

  • IM/Presence: AIM, Yahoo, and others.
  • Enterprise Telephony/UC: Cisco, Avaya, Microsoft, etc.
  • VoIP Services: Skype, Vonage, Packet8
  • Productivity Suites: Microsoft, IBM, Corel
  • Video Tools: Skype, Polycom, Cisco, Apple (FaceTime)
  • Mobility Tools: RIM, Apple, Palm/HP, Nokia
  • Advanced Services: speech recognition, location tracking, translation, transcription, development environment

Google Voice is a key component to the likely strategy to further tie Android to Google Apps and Gmail. The Google Voice application itself manages outbound callerID with the Google Voice number instead of the cell number allowing far greater control of incoming calls. It also offers significant savings on international long distance without intrusive steps such as a calling card or quality compromise. In addition to email, Gmail provides presence information(but doesn’t currently report status based on calendar or phone status), and video. Gmail’s virus and spam protection are often forgotten, but still not included in most competitive offerings.

There are several third party apps with clever enhancements. Location awareness is the big one. For example, you can adjust calling rules (ring volume or go directly to voice mail) based on several factors such as location and calendar settings. Today, Google Voice rings on several phones per its setting, but why not just ring nearby phones? As Google builds it Google Apps base, its Android base, and matures its Google Voice offering – the potential enhancements of tying them all together get pretty compelling.

While I do expect Google to offer a business class voice service and significant disruption to occur, I don’t expect the disruption to be a blip – nor a winner take all scenario. It will be long term – enterprise organizations make careful decisions. It is important lesson to notice that while the Cloud and SaaS is hot now, has been at it for a decade. UPS uses the term “Speed of Business” which is a polite way of not insulting snails.

Related posts that push this point:

In The Future of the Phone: Bring your Own: I question the need for an onsite phone system at all. Though it isn’t likely to really go away, its role could easily be diminished with virtual number services. On site phone systems do a great job of things like 911, intercom, and paging, but many of the advanced features could easily move to a virtual number service.

In Virtual Numbers with Real Value: I take a look at what virtual numbers can do today and why they are already compelling.

In Google Goes VoIP: I cover the new Gmail calling feature and take a look at some of its shortcomings; the areas that might need to be addressed before an enterprise offering. Similarly, in far more depth, I published a research report on GigaOm Pro called Google’s Voce Possibilities (subscription required).

Dave Michels