You no doubt read on Monday that Sprint and Google Voice have done a deep integration. This now enables a Sprint subscriber to either a) make Google Voice into her Sprint mobile number or b) use an existing Sprint number as the Google Voice number.
Those who choose to do this get all the benefits of Google Voice including low-cost intentional calls, call forwarding, blocking, screening and so on.
Google Voice Goes Mainstream
It’s really the first “mainstream” implementation of Google Voice. It remains to be seen how many “ordinary users” take advantage of it. Sprint has about 50 million subscribers. Right now it doesn’t appear to equally apply to Sprint’s pre-paid mobile units, Boost and VirginMobileUSA, although perhaps it will in the near future.
(I’m not sure exactly what happens if you make your Google Voice number your Sprint number and then change carriers.)
Google Voice had already introduced number porting. That enables users to make an existing mobile phone number into their Google Voice number — scenario “b” above. It costs $20 and is a bit of a pain but will work with any mobile carrier if you want to access Google Voice’s features via your mobile number.
Landline Porting The Next Step
What I’m really waiting for, however, is landline number porting: taking your existing home number and moving it over to Google Voice. (You could always simply give out a Google Voice number as your “home” number.) That would be potentially highly disruptive and my guess is that lots of people would do it — especially given that Google Voice is currently free. It will cost money eventually but quite a bit less than legacy phone service and probably even VoIP from cable providers such as Comcast.
AT&T (“Ma Bell”) sees the eventual death of traditional wireline phone service and a migration to VoIP. Here’s what the company said in a 2009 FCC filing:
While broadband usage – and the importance of broadband to Americans’ lives – is growing every day, the business model for legacy phone services is in a death spiral. Revenues from POTS [Plain Old Telephone Service] are plummeting as customers cut their landlines in favor of the convenience and advanced features of wireless and VoIP services. At the same time, due to the high fixed costs of providing POTS, every customer who abandons this service raises the average cost-per-line to serve the remaining customers.
AT&T now has more revenue from wireless (48 percent in Q4 2010) than conventional phone service (21 percent). However AT&T’s “wireline” phone business is still worth about $25 billion annually in gross revenues. And Verizon’s wireline business is still billions larger. Google’s full year revenues in 2010 were approximately $29 billion.
For comparison purposes Skype had approximately $800 million in 2010 revenue (extrapolating from 1H numbers in the company’s S-1 filing). Google could do at least as well I’m sure and has a more trusted (or at least more visible) brand than Skype in most respects. Skype’s pricing would need to be matched or undercut.
Today about 42 percent of the US either has no landline or uses mobile as the primary phone with the landline as a backup and spam catcher.
If Google were to allow landline number porting and aggressively price its service it could over time capture millions of users who want to cut their landlines but don’t want to use their mobile numbers as the “public” number they give out.