In addition to providing one number for voice calls, Google Voice also serves as a hub for SMS as it lets users send text messages from any of their devices or even right over the Web on their computer. And as far as voicemail goes, Google Voice has the ability to provide automated voicemail transcriptions that can be sent through both SMS and through standard email. This means that users can get the general gist of a voicemail without dialing into their voicemail service and listening through an entire message.
There are many, many other features to Google Voice that Google describes at length here.
How are wireless carriers going to react to this?
If there's one thing that gives telecom companies nightmares, it's the thought of being relegated to providing "dumb pipes" that only transmit data and don't provide any value-added services for their customers. In this light, carriers might not be overly happy to have Google Voice become too popular, even though Google Voice users would still be paying the telcos for their voice and data services. Net neutrality proponents such as the media advocacy group Free Press have met Google Voice with enthusiasm, as they think it could give users the ability to seamlessly switch carriers if their current carrier is too restrictive of what they can and cannot use on their mobile devices.
"If Google Voice becomes more widely adopted, it will further condition people to think of their handheld device as another Internet device where they can use any application they choose," says Free Press campaign director Tim Karr. "For all of its strengths as a device, the iPhone is not truly delivering the Internet in your pocket. It's an Internet that has certain services and apps blocked."
Additionally, Infonetics Research analyst Diane Myers says that Google's strong relationships with third-party developers gives the company an edge over both carriers and over-the-top VoIP providers in pushing out new and innovative applications for their voice service.
"Skype has a huge install base, they have a lot of users and brand recognition, but Google has the added advantage over them because they can start tapping into a larger developer community that they've been working with for years," she says.
Of course, Google Voice doesn't present the same competition for revenues to traditional carriers that Skype does. But Orr thinks that it could force carriers to look into changing how they offer value-added services over their networks if they want to avoid becoming "dumb pipes."
"I don't see Google Voice competing with the traditional telecom companies," he says. "But maybe carriers need to examine the competitive space they operate in and understand how to implement more digital features to their existing services."
This story, "FAQ: How Google Voice Will Rock Wireless" was originally published by Network World.