In a new regular series we’ll look a some of the most exciting web services that aren’t available in the UK and impatiently ask “Why can’t we have them?”
First up: Google Voice.
Nearly a year after Google’s next-generation telephony service launched, there’s no official word on when it will be available outside the USA.
What is Google Voice?
Google Voice offers a wide range of services that drag telephony into the 21st Century.
- A single number. Voice allows users to select one phone number to become their ‘master phone number’. Calls to this number are then routed to every phone you have registered with the service. Your landline, your mobile, your desk phone – they will all ring, meaning you can be contacted wherever you are. An online control panel allows you to control which phones are active on the service at what time. That means your work phone won’t call when you’re ‘off duty’ for example, and your home landline won’t call when you’re away from home.
- Cheap phone international phone calls.
- Voicemail can be transcribed and sent as text to you by SMS and/or email.
- Free SMS.
- Easy conference calling.
- Tight integration with Android means it’s even more of an attractive proposition for users of Google’s mobile OS.
In short, it’s the kind of phone service that we’d kill for in the UK.
Why isn’t Google Voice available in the UK?
While Google has said it is planning to expand the service to additional countries in the future there have been no firm details on this yet. In November it was revealed that Google has signed contracts with a number of “international service providers for inputs to Google Voice”. Beyond that there has been nothing official about the service coming to the UK.
When it comes to the the UK, a launch for Voice isn’t just down to the will of Google. While some aspects of the service could be launched without problems, the way call charging works would be prohibitively expensive to launch in the UK.
In the USA mobile phones don’t have a separate dialing code – they can have any regional code and the additional cost of routing a call over the the cellular network is covered by charging both the caller and receiver. In the UK all mobile phones are numbered with codes starting 07 and the caller is therefore well aware they are phoning a more expensive number pays the full cost of the call.
If Google offered call prices similar to those it charges in the USA, it would be bearing the cost of of a huge subsidy in the UK.
Overcoming the problems
It’s likely that Google wants to bring Voice to a major market like the UK and there are two ways it could bypass the call cost problem detailed above.
- Charge more for calls. For some users, having a telephony service with Google’s featureset is worth paying for. With either a monthly usage charge or higher per-call charges, Google could launch Voice although its appeal would be less enticing thanks to the increased cost.
- Become a VoIP service. Google acquired VoIP start-up Gizmo5 in November 2009. A Google exec recently hinted that Google Voice may integrate internet-based phonecalls this year. If calls were routed over wifi or a phone’s data connection, Google wouldn’t have a problem with restrictions on what it could charge.
Either of these options would allow Voice to launch in the UK. The VoIP option might cause problems for those using their mobile phone’s data connections. Most network operators are still terrified by the threat VoIP poses to their call revenues and the stability of the their data networks. VoIP connections are blocked by some networks although networks are slowly coming around to the idea. 3 UK, for example, positively encourages Skype usage. A VoIP version of Voice would still be able to interact with landlines just the way Skype and its competitors do.
So, a UK launch for Voice looks possible, just not an identical service to the one currently available in the USA. As for when this might happen? Well, that remains in the lap of the gods known as Larry, Sergey and Eric.