This past Monday began like any other. I grabbed some coffee and flipped open my laptop to check my email and go through my RSS feeds. However, I was unaware that this Monday morning was going to be different. While I was going through my email I saw an email title that read: “You’ve been invited to Google Voice”. At this point the caffeine from the coffee was no longer needed. It was Christmas morning and I was 10 years old. To say I was extremely excited would be an understatement. I’ve been waiting to receive my Google Voice invite for a while and the anticipation had gotten even greater when it was announced that invites where starting to be sent out about three weeks ago.
Let me just say that the hype is completely justified. After playing with the service since Monday I am really impressed. I’m familiar with virtual PBX solutions and have used them for years but the fact that I now have a solution with Google, that ties into all of the other Google properties that I use is a big deal. As I began to think about the ramifications of Google Voice, I thought about the effect it was going to have on mobile phone carriers.
I think the days of mobile phone carriers being consumer facing brands in the sense that they are today are numbered. I think managing your phone number and all related functionality in the cloud will result in mobile phone carriers simply becoming the companies that provide the data infrastructure. When this transition takes place it will mean great things for consumers. The leverage that carriers have will simply go away. No more rate plans based on minutes, no more ridiculous text messaging fees – it’s all going away. Everything will just become a data plan.
Carriers like AT&T in the US have been fighting the idea of simply becoming a “data pipe”. One needs to look no further than their decision to block Skype calls over their 3G network using the iPhone’s Skype application. The only explanation of a company blatantly doing something that is completely against the interest of their customers is a sign of desperation. A sign that the old business model doesn’t work anymore. While blocking Skype is one thing, trying to do the same to the beast that is Google is not going to work. Google Voice has already released apps for Android and the Blackberry and an iPhone application is in the works as well. Although using a third party app to place phone calls maybe a little kludgy right now, the integration will only get better. For example, the Android version of the Google Voice app replaces the native dial functionality of the phone and completely integrates with the phone’s address book. With this type of integration, all consumers will really need the carriers for is a data plan.
All in all, I’m excited to see the disruptive effects that Google Voice will have on mobile phone carriers and the telecom industry in general. It’s going to end the stranglehold that carriers have had in locking in customers and charging them ridiculous rates. As you can see, I have a little pent up anger. However, the right technology will win out in the end and I’m excited to see Google lead the way. In the interim, I’m sure we will see the desperate attempts by AT&T and other carriers to resist this disruptive shift.