Google Voice makes move to mainstream with number portingJanuary 20, 2011: 12:13 AM ET
Google's Voice services are set to go mainstream in 2011.
Google (GOOG) is testing number portability on Google Voice (update: it was just taken down) which allows users to move their primary phone number to Google and then forward to a new number assigned by their carrier. I did this a few months ago at the invitation of Google and haven't looked back. I can now forward my calls to my landline, Gmail, my new mobile number and work number at scheduled times and days. I also get free voicemail transcriptions, call recording and line transfers.
This is one of those services that becomes immediately useful and also immediately clear that you don't ever want to live without. (See 10 reasons to use Google Voice)
A few important things to note: If you are currently on a subsidized data plan (most of you are) you will incur an early termination fee and your plan will get cancelled. The process is similar to moving to another carrier. Also, Google is charging a $20 fee for number porting. As of now it only works on non-corporate mobile phones, meaning landlines and your work phone number can't be ported, yet.
I spoke to Vincent Paquet, one of the founders of Grand Central along with Craig Walker, the service that was purchased to become Google Voice, who indicated that number porting would be rolling out soon, perhaps by the end of the month. He also hinted that Google's upcoming Android Honeycomb tablets could have additional Google Voice features, perhaps the ability to make VoIP calls without a carrier voice account. They were displayed with the ability to video chat with other Google talk users.
Before you consider leaving voice lines all together, remember Google Voice isn't positioned to be a voice line replacement...yet.
E-911 services aren't yet mature (though I'm told Google is investigating that) and Google took some heat last year for not connecting to all rural carriers because of the high fees they charge.
How does Google monetize Voice? No, it isn't whispering ads into your ears (though Paquet was amused by the notion). Paquet points to Skype and other VoIP carriers who charge international connection fees as one model. Connecting calls at Google's scale is extremely inexpensive so huge revenues aren't necessary to maintain the infrastructure.
Another reason for its existence, and the reason Paquet has stayed at Google long after the Grand Central acquisition, is Google's focus on user experience. Paquet, like other Googlers I've talked to who were brought in by acquisition, had a chance to leave long ago but stays on because of the resources Google has at its disposal and its trust it places in its people. While it may take longer to make updates to Voice than it would as a startup (because of more code checking and testing), Google more than makes up for it with its server, bandwidth and other unique resources.
Voice is also a huge gateway into Google's other services, especially the Enterprise, where eliminating the carrier and VoIP boxes would really excite small to medium-size business owners. At the time of purchase in 2007, product manager Wesley Chan said in a posting on Google's website "We think GrandCentral's technology fits well into Google's efforts to provide services that enhance the collaborative exchange of information between our users."
Dave Girouard, Google's President of Enterprise indicated that soon Voice would be a managed service in Google's Enterprise Apps just like calendar and email.
Google Voice is only available in the U.S. at the moment and calls to the U.S. and Canada are free throughout 2011. Voice is expected to roll out to Canada and Western Europe in 2011 or at least that seems to be the thinking. Google was briefly outed last year in negotiations with the Spanish government on bringing the product to Spain.
Paquet, a Frenchmen who has a passion for voice data services, had a previous VoIP startup that was picked up by Yahoo. He is even active on Google Voice help forums.
If you are near the end of your contract or off contract, I can highly recommend Google's Voice services. Even if you don't port your current number, you can get a new number (or just using it for voicemail) by signing up here. For much more on Google Voice, visit Google Voice's YouTube Channel where you can see demos of most of the features in Voice.