It’s now almost a year since a Google exec told us that the company’s much-praised telephony service Google Voice was being tested in Europe for a future launch. Since that time we’ve heard nothing – so what’s going on?

As a reminder, Google Voice offers a central phone number that people can reach you on regardless of the device you use, or even via landlines. It offers voicemail that can be managed via a desktop browser or mobile app – and even emailed to you, and free domestic calls to the US and Canada and low rates to other countries. There are plenty of other neat features such as call screening and a ‘do not disturb’ mode, too.

Sadly, Google Voice remains US-only. Way back in February 2010, we asked why it hadn’t expanded further. As we explained at the time, call charging structures that differ to the US would affect the ability to offer cheap or free calls. In the UK, for example, the caller pays the full cost of a call while in the US, the cost is split with the receiver. However, the call management side of the service would no doubt be of interest to many potential users regardless of call cost.

Speaking at an event in Germany last September, Google’s European Director of Business Development, Jens Redmer, said that the company was taking “concrete action” on bringing Voice to Europe. After his talk, he confirmed to me that he had it running on his phone already.

It’s worth noting that Google offers the ability to call telephone numbers using VoIP from within Gmail in a Web browser in some countries. Payment and the call history for this service is managed via the google.com/voice URL, but a full Google Voice service is still frustratingly absent.

So, what’s holding Google back? Redmer said last year that legislative hurdles around telephony services were an issue. Since then though, we’ve heard nothing.

A few possibilities:

  • Perhaps Google is still dealing with the legal implications of running a telephony service in European countries and still plans to launch it in the future. In the UK, for example, the company would need to be regulated as a telecommunications provider –  a large administrative overhead that VoIP providers don’t need to endure.
  • Maybe Google Voice expansion has fallen victim to the company’s well-publicized streamlining of its product lines. Killing off the existing service in the US would be unpopular and maybe unnecessary, but a risky expansion may be seen as beyond the scope of a Google focusing on core areas of its business. Throw in country-by-country regulatory compliance, and maybe it’s just too much hassle for the potential rewards.
  • It could be that Google has decided not to launch Voice in Europe due to the pricing problem – it would be uneconomical to offer free and very low-cost calls in countries that don’t follow the same charging model as the US. When it comes to voicemail,  similar services such as Libon Voicefeed (formerly ON Voicefeed) and Ribbit Mobile are already out there. Maybe Google simply doesn’t feel that a version of Voice that can’t offer free/cheap calls and has only a few benefits over existing services on the market simply isn’t attractive enough. I’d disagree – a central number with a browser-based interface would be heaven for me and I’d be prepared to pay a fair price for it.

Whatever the reason, Google (unsurprisingly) isn’t sharing it. This week it told us: “We don’t have an update or anything to announce at this time.”

For now, those of us outside the US will have to continue to suffer gloating from our American friends and colleagues who enjoy Google Voice. If anyone out there fancies building a European business around a central phone number and a Web-based interface to control it, please go ahead!

Image credit: Billy Brown