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Google’s expanding telecommunication service

The original Grand Central single telephone number service is the core of the suite. When a call comes to a user, the user can take the call, route it to voicemail, record the call and perform other functions such as getting a transcript of the caller’s voicemail sent via e-mail. The system offers SMS features and low-cost international telephone calls. A call to London costs two cents per minute. The fee is low enough to go down smoothly and in line with Google’s micropayment approach, which makes economic gold when offered to Google’s large user base.

Unlike the old, analogue AT&T, Google Voice is all digital, all the time. As a result, the service can be deployed within other Google applications and made available via Google’s application programming interfaces for Apps, the Gphone and possibly the OneBox API used by licensees of the Google Search Appliance. Making a Google application telephone aware amounts to cutting and pasting code snippets. I can envision a shared spreadsheet within Google Apps with an icon that activates a conference call among the parties with whom the spreadsheet has been shared. One click, conference call.

As good as Google Voice is, there are some drawbacks to the system. If you sign up for Google Voice, you will get a new telephone number. Your contacts will have to be notified of that number. Google’s free and low-cost services will generate a magnetic attraction for some users. At this time, Google is rolling out the service in the United States. Other countries for now are blocked out of the services.

Grand Central has grabbed the attention of Googlers. Google Voice is in the nether world of a beta test. Most people won’t be able to access, learn and use the system. Google e-mailed Grand Central invitations, but I lost mine. The e-mail arrived, and I had assumed that Grand Central was one of the casualties on Google’s information superhighway. But the service is available to some testers; the rollout will grind forward. By the time you read this, Google Voice may be widely available.

While the service is free now and offers low-cost international calls, Google can at any time begin charging for those services—either by the transaction or some other metric such as the number of mapped phones, e-mails or calls. A cost surprise may take place. A user like I could quit Google Voice service but that could be a hassle, resulting in phone downtime and probably spending money to set up a comparable system.

An interesting question is, "What’s the impact of Google Voice?" As its competitors know, Google hit a public relations and marketing communications home run. Journalists, pundits and analysts worldwide are talking about the service. One analyst told me that "with Google Voice, Google has demonstrated that it can roll out fresh services." I agree.

Not AT&T yet

A second impact is that the pressure waves released by Google Voice will pulse for months, maybe a year or more. Google Voice may force established telcos and competitors like Microsoft and Yahoo to respond. Even Google’s connections at Apple may fray as a result of Google Voice.

If I were starting a new venture, the appeal of Google Voice is difficult to ignore. I could, for example, get one mobile phone, no landlines. Each employee or contractor would be asked to use the system to keep tabs on company-related business. Cost is a powerful lure, but the convenience of making the shift is magnetic.

Google has been widening its lead in Web search. Some research firms suggest that Google’s share of the Web search market is more than 80 percent. Google has to look to other market sectors for revenue. I think Google Voice is one interesting initiative. Google’s array of communication services makes it difficult to ignore the company’s designs on telecommunications.

But Google may have time to become the 21st century’s reincarnation of the old AT&T. Regulators are not organized to deal with a company like the upstart Google. Telcos know what Google is doing, but are unable to respond to Google’s voice service. Google is not AT&T yet. The firm has not been able to exploit the surge in usage in social search. Even though Google lacks a Facebook.com and Twitter.com product, Google is beginning to look more and more like the original Bell telephone organization. Voice, data and information are now available from one source that seems to be coalescing into a single-source, data utility.

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