Google to Deepen Voice With Gizmo5 Buy

Google’s purchase of VoIP company Gizmo5, announced Thursday, accomplishes two things for the search giant: It brings new levels of potential business-class service to Google Voice, and it gives AT&T ammunition in its regulatory fight with Mountain View.

Google isn’t providing much detail regarding how Gizmo5’s technology will fit into Voice. “While we don’t have any specific features to announce right now, Gizmo5’s engineers will be joining the Google Voice team to continue improving the Google Voice and Gizmo5 experience,” group product managers Wesley Chan and Greg Walker wrote in a posting on the Google Voice Blog.

A visit to Gizmo5’s Web site shows the company is suspending new user signups but “will return after we re-launch.” Also, existing users won’t be able to sign up for a call-in numbers until the new services are announced, according to Google.

Gizmo5’s “softphone” software was already compatible with Google Voice, and a May 2006 review of the service by Ted Stephenson of the VoIP Planet Web site gave it very high marks for sound quality, user interface and conference calling abilities.

Is Google Now a Phone Company?

AT&T has taken its scuffle with Google Voice regarding blocking of certain high-cost calls to rural areas to the FCC. The phone company insists that Google should be subject to the same regulations by which it has to abide, but Google has argued that Voice works on top of existing phone lines, so it’s not really a traditional telecommunications service, thus current regulations don’t apply to it.

Yet Gizmo5’s technology now gives Google a way for users to make direct computer-to-computer, or computer-to-landline calls, said Greg Sterling, editor with Search Engine Land. “This makes Google Voice into Skype, or however they choose to release it,” Sterling told the E-Commerce Times. “There will be some direct-calling capability.”

It may also push the FCC into examining all companies working in this nascent tech segment. “The regulators haven’t caught up with the technology in all these cases,” Sterling said. “They have to figure out this whole category to some degree. I’m sure there are some other analogies we can think of where there’s a new segment that’s performing the same function (as a regulated industry) but uses a different methodology.”

The New, Improved Google Voice

There may be opportunities for Google to continue pushing Microsoft and other providers of unified communications software with its acquisition of Gizmo5, Sterling said.

“Microsoft and others have been working on UC for a long time, but Google may be closer to realizing their goals than others. They certainly could build some sort of module or app for (Google) Wave. That’s going to be an open platform, and developers are already coming up with apps. I definitely think there will be a business-to-business or enterprise angle,” he explained.

The possibility of cheaper, Skype-type calls made on WiFi or upcoming 4G/LTE networks is no doubt very appealing to the small- to medium-size business market. However, Google has to ensure voice quality and customer support, and it may also have to introduce new marketing initiatives if its wants better consumer pickup.

“The success story (in telecom) has been the bundled voice services for cable companies, but standalone providers have not been a success,” Sterling said. “Maybe it’s a voice quality issue or just consumer inertia. People will be driven by price — cheap calls, free conference calls, like what you can do with Skype. People using these services to reduce cost are going to gravitate towards them, provided they work.”

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