Google was very cagey when asked what its Google Voice team would do with the Gizmo5 startup it acquired last week.
Gizmo5 makes Web-based calling software for mobile phones and computers. Specifically, it provides a Web-based VOIP client that lets users make phone calls over the Internet, similar to programs such as Skype.
Google's secrecy matters little, at least in Andy Abramson's mind. The VOIP consultant, who long lobbied for Google to buy Gizmo5, said Google could take the Gizmo5 assets, bolster the Google Talk Web chat client and bundle them with Google Voice, the phone management application that rings calls to home, work and cell phones through one number.
That's how Google would take on Skype, but there is potential for a broader play here.
Combine the Google Talk (with Gizmo5 endpoint support) and Google Voice applications with Google's Android mobile operating system and users have one control point for all of their Web-based calling needs.
Google will have the opportunity to offer PC-to-PC and PC-to-phone calling services, supported by Android devices with Android applications without racking up minutes on carriers' cell phone data plans. People have done this!
Suddenly, the traditional carriers aren't looking as powerful. They become the dumb pipes supporting the clients. "Google has become a very uncommon carrier," Abramson said, repeating what he told Wired last week. This is a play on the 7UP soft drink as an alternative to Coke and the common carrier classification for phone companies.
Then our chat got interesting, as Abramson proceeded to outline a scenario where Google would serve phone-based ads to Google Voice subscribers. Abramson said:
"The consumer marketplace is very ripe for disruption and I don't just mean free calling. Free calling is the loss leader; it's the sample that you get when you go to Costco and the nice lady behind the counter offers you sausage, cheese or pasta sauce. Voice is the sample, and when you layer in all of the services that you can charge for -- conference calling, wake-up calls, conference call notification. Imagine if I'm Google and I say I want to give you a phone service for free if you subscribe for 20 days of wake-up calls. It will be followed by the music you like followed by a non-interruptible, 10-second clip that says 'tune in tonight to watch news at Fox' and ABC pays for your wake-up calls."
Google would offer users to pay $40 a month for conference call, or $10 per month with commercials. Abramson calls these "sponsored services."
I call them ads, because that is the term that is most closely associated with Google's business model. But should we be surprised?
Doesn't it always come back to ads with Google, who pads it coffers with ad-based revenues to the tune of $23 billion a year?
Abramson also surprised me by claiming that Gizmo5 CEO Michael Robertson will stick around. This is the same Robertson who founded MP3.com and Lindows. Why would he stay at Google, where he's part of a team instead of running the show?
"Google's a playground," Abramson said. "They don't exactly stay on top of you." Abramson's implication is that Robertson will have some latitude to add his vision to Google.