When it comes to voice and video, Google should think collaboration and not competition.
As it currently stands, Google's recent addition of Public Switched Telephone Network
voice calling to Gmail is much ado about nothing. While the feature works well enough
and Google enjoyed a nice burst of voice traffic right after launch, I can only
hope the move is the first step in a more ambitious Unified Communications play,
rather than a plan solely to beat Skype or, even worse, yet another Google service
thrown against the proverbial wall solely to see where an ad might stick.
Users who look at Skype strictly as a cheap tool may move
their voice business to Gmail lbecause it is the cheapest or most
convenient alternative. But for others, Skype is more than a phone.
It's a community, isolated in its
little walled garden, where contacts both domestic and abroad are
reachable for free
via voice, video or text. Moving lock, stock and barrel to Gmail means
to those contacts.
I fall into the Skype-as-a-tool camp, so I've already packed
my bags. I was a SkypeOut subscriber for years, but when Skype said it
was axing my yearly rate, I got all huffy about it over Twitter, and
passive-aggressively let my subscription lapse when my term ended in
August. I needed
a new solution, and Google's works well enough even if I'm forced to
massive compromises for the sake of a few free calls. I was a happy GrandCentral user for the time before Google's
acquisition, but when porting that service to Google Voice, Google forced me to
use a new Gmail account since it wouldn't work in my Google Apps domain. Due to
some odd behavior after the transition, the need for a Gmail account I wouldn't
use for anything else and services soon offered by my workplace that made
Google Voice redundant, I stopped needing or using Google Voice. But since the new Gmail voice calling features again only
work in Gmail (not Google Apps), and Google integrated my old Google
it provided a new reason to revisit that dormant Gmail account. The
works from a browser tab, just like Gmail, although it requires Adobe
Google's Voice and Video plug-in to make or receive calls. Although the
be tricky under certain circumstances to get installed (it's another
AppLocker-unfriendly application from Google), the service works well
enough in the few
days I've spent with it. I can call out from my PC to the PSTN (Public
Switched Telephone Network) and mobile
phones, and those parties can call me at my Google Voice number,
provided I set
the service to route calls to Gmail.
But I never built a stable of Skype-only contacts, as I was
using SkypeOut for PSTN calls 95 percent of the time. Without SkypeOut, I didn't
need Skype. But for those operating mostly within Skype's walls, those who have
collections of friends, family and associates all over the world whom they
talk to and see via Skype, they probably aren't going anywhere.So perhaps Google shouldn't be thinking competition with
Skype, but rather thinking about collaborating with them. Instead of luring
bandwidth-usurping, low-profit Skype customers to Gmail, perhaps Google could
build a massive Skype Connect (http://bit.ly/bHZT2e)
portal on their network, then charge its users a flat-rate fee for calls
domestic, international and Skype. I've speculated previously on grander visions for Google to
build an interoperability hub for voice and particularly video (in the second
half of http://bit.ly/aLkahw), and continue
to think broad interoperability will be the key to success for Google when it
comes to voice and video. And I think Google has coalesced enough pieces such as Gizmo5 and Global IP Solutions to take a
stab at something truly interesting. Competing with Skype for rock bottom Internet voice call
pricing-well, that's not interesting. And not a battle Google needs to wage.
Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for eWEEK.com, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at email@example.com.