I have not heard anything about Google Voice recently. I find Google more secretive than Apple used to be. But I do use Google Voice and do pay attention to where the industry is going. If I actually knew anything about Google Voice Premier, I would likely be under an NDA. So this is pure speculation, though hopefully not fiction.
I wrote an article on NoJitter a while back that left an impression with me. It talked about the idea of using a real simple, daresay dumb, solution for a PBX, and outsource the intelligence to the cloud. For a PBX guy, that was a radical thought. But it continues to gnaw at me. Google Voice has its problems. Limitations that make so sense. My theory is when smart companies do dumb things, there is usually a reason. I believe that reason is to make room for Google Voice Premier Edition.
With Google Apps, there is the free basic service and then Google Apps Premier edition. The Premier level solves a number of basic problems that the enterprise customer is willing to pay for (and consumers aren’t). Probably the biggest is support, but there is so much more. More storage, more features. Google Voice is currently a free service which is suspicious in itself. I can come up with lots of reasons why it should not be free, such as unlimited free domestic long distance. But I can also come up with a bunch of reasons why Gmail should not be free either. Let’s instead talk about the potential Premier Edition of Google Voice.
- One thing missing in Google Voice is number porting – actually number porting in. They currently support number portability out. The fact they support number portability out means everything is in place to support number portability except the desire to do so. Supporting it outbound has a finite risk, but no company wants to hold a customer (especially on a free service) hostage. Number portability inbound is absolutely required for anyone wanting to use the service with a published well known number – like corporations. Many carriers are now charging a fee for number porting. It is a lot of work, too much for a free service.
- But the big opportunity is number portability of DID ranges. This will require two things in the Premier Edition; support of inbound number portability as already mentioned; and an administrative dashboard for the enterprise customer. Most carriers don’t really give you much information about the DID ranges – because the intelligence of them is typically based on customer premise equipment. But if the GV Cloud is doing the smart stuff, then corporate administrators need to be able to reassign DIDs to different users and/or devices. This is where Google generally gets it; self help. So when Joe quits the company, the administrator can reclaim and redirect the DID as appropriate.
- SIP Integration: The next thing is a partnership with a SIP carrier. I doubt Google wants to be the SIP carrier, but who knows. The big issue here is outbound callerid. Put in a simple customer PBX that supports SIP trunks, and have the Google Voice number sent out as the outbound callerID (by extension) solves a number of problems. Technically, you can do this with the free version of Google Voice, but some carriers are very picky about outbound callerID numbers. Cbeyond for example, won’t allow any numbers that aren’t coming in thru CBeyond. Managing the outbound callerID with Google Voice free edition is a pain involving multiple steps. Being able to pick up a desk phone is really simple.
- Directory: GMail Premier offers the ability to integrate with Active Directory. The current Google Voice offers users (same as non users) access to Goog-411, a directory look-up that simply converts the callers speech to text to perform a query and than reads back the results and offers to transfer the call. Combine that application with a corporate directory and say goodbye to the spell by name directory.
- Presence: Phone Status/Presence integration. At this time, there is no communication between Google Voice and Google Chat. As with many alternative enterprise solutions, the ability for presence to change to “in a call” based on phone status makes a lot of sense. Factor in associated numbers such as cell phones and home numbers working as business phones, and this presence capability can leap frog many of the current PBX offerings today. A real impressive trick would be to enable video conferencing with audio and video on separate channels. So a user can utilize his/her desk or cell phone and still turn on their webcam without having to reset up the call as a videoconference.
- Outbound Calling Features: Several Google Voice features are limited to inbound calls only. Audio-conferencing, for example. Premier Edition will likely offer a way for the user to initiate a conference call. Initiating calls is a painpoint in general, but Google Voice Premier will likely support speed dials either by DTMF touch-tone or speech recognition.
- Call Record: The current free version offers call recording, but with audible notification. Silent Call Recording will be possible with Premier Edition. Most PBX solutions that offer call recording can do so silently. There are some very old rules around this that freak people out, but ultimately it is the responsibility of the recorder, not the recording technology provider, to adhere to relevant laws.
- App Integration: Google Voice currently offers very little integration with the other Google Apps. Gmail and Google Voice share contacts, but it sure would be nice to have my calendar read to me or be able to respond to an email with either a call button instead of reply.
- Call Center: I expect the Premier Edition to support call center capabilities. Rudimentary or advanced call center capabilities are available on nearly all phone systems and hosted providers. For Google to deliver on managing inbound calls in a competitive way, some call center capabilities need to be included. This is visibly missing from the current free edition. Call center capabilities include reporting, attendant groups, and queues. A more advanced capability might include skills based routing. Another critical feature is an automated call attendant, or even an IVR capability possibly combined with Google’s speech recognition capabilities.
- Gadgets: Google Voice Gadgets are needed. Desktop support/integration is critical to the current generation of Unified Communications technologies. These can be simple solutions or APIs. For example, Switchvox can look up a callerid (uses Google) and displays on a Google Map the location of the caller. Other popular applications are click to dial solutions. I downloaded a third party click to dial solution for Google Voice that works well within a browser, but what about from a CRM or even Outlook? Google Voice can take some automated steps now based on incoming CallerID, but the next level will be an API that could potentially open the CRM and update an entry.
The big difference between Google Voice and most of the alternatives cloud services is GV doesn’t include basic phone service. You need a phone to utilize Google Voice. That leaves the customer with a potential choice – purchase a sophisticated all in in one solution AKA the robust VoIP switch. Or, utilize a service such as Google Voice and use a mixture of PBX, Cell, and even home lines for dial tone. This free’s up Google from the headaches associated with trunking hardware, phones, and 911 – and can dramatically simplify the premise PBX while simultaneously leveraging cloud technologies for nationwide services. Consider an organization with an office in each state; all 50 offices on a single intelligent service with local control over telecom hardware. Really all that is needed locally is a solution that supports direct dial numbers; ideally a SIP trunked phone system, but don’t dismiss simple phones from the local wired or wireless carrier.
Google tends to quietly connect the dots. A solution as I described above will be very expensive on a PBX – presence, video, networked sites, click to dial from various applications, etc. Google has the ability to tie these together as they already have so many of the necessary components (apps, desktop clients/gadgets, current Google Voice) in place. The current service is not really appropriate for the enterprise, but with very little notice, don’t be surprised to find Google Voice Premier at a reasonable price point disrupting enterprise voice.
Anyone wanting to compete with Google Voice should be taking a strong hard look at Skype. I posted an article a while back about the strategic importance of buying Skype (when eBay announced their desire to sell Skype). Skype has the network, the desktop client, and the installed base to make things interesting. Even better, Skype as the ability to integrate directly to the PBX with its Skype to SIP and Skype to Asterisk gateway beta products.
To quote my good friend Ann Elk: “That is my theory, it is mine, and belongs to me and I own it, and what it is too.”