It seemed liked a good idea at the time, Google’s got to be thinking right about now. The good idea is Google Voice, which allows users a whole lot of nifty features for making and managing phone calls. For some, such as AT&T, however, Google Voice is a bad idea because Google Voice gets to play by a different set of rules which allow it to invade AT&T’s turf, and undercut its revenue stream.
In defending Google Voice’s decision to block calls, Richard Whitt, Google’s telecom and media counsel, tells us: “Earlier this year, we noticed an extremely high number of calls were being made to an extremely small number of destinations. In fact, the top 10 telephone prefixes--the area code plus the first three digits of a seven digit number, e.g., 555-555-XXXX--generated more than 160 times the expected traffic volumes, and accounted for a whopping 26 percent of our monthly connection costs.” Google, one can appreciate, doesn’t see a particular need to subsidize the fantasies of middle-aged single men still living in their mothers’ basements.
Google is promising to implement blocking schemes that are more particular--targeting particular numbers rather than a whole exchange. And, in fact, feels it should be congratulated for exposing “traffic pumping schemes” that drive up the cost of ordinary phone service. I’m guessing AT&T won’t be the first to send flowers.
No matter how innovative the big boys are, the minions lurking about in the ‘tubes’ keep on beating them to the punch on new, innovative features. In this case the big boy is Google Voice, which offers you a phone number along with a bag stuffed with nifty features like voicemail, voicemail transcription, custom greetings, free text-messaging, blocking unwanted callers, and call screening. The only drawback is you have to use Google Voice’s assigned number, which is a problem for us who have our identity intimately tied to an existing mobile number.
The hackers on the net didn’t let this slow them down, however, and a workaround came about pretty quickly. Keep your existing mobile number, just forward your unanswered calls to your Google Voice number. The process is pretty simple, in fact. You can find it explained in posts at TechnologyCrowd and Lifehacker.
Well hack no more. Google Voice has taken the hint and now offers a ‘lite’ version with this feature. According to The Official Google Blog if you sign up with your existing number you’ll get access Google Voice’s voicemail features. If you already have a Google Voice account the process of forwarding your voicemail from your mobile numbers has been simplified.
Google's Voice service is causing quite a stir in Congress, as both Republicans and Democrats have called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to investigate Google's ability to block calls to rural telephone exchanges. But it's the dispute between Google and Apple where things get interesting.
Prompting the probe, Google's Voice app is not available on the iPhone, which led AT&T to argue that Google would have an unfair advantage if not held to the same rules and regulations as telcos. Now here's the kicker - Google Voice would be available on the iPhone, had Apple not rejected it. Apple said it was still looking into how the app works and doesn't feel comfortable with it altering the iPhone's telephone functionality and user interface.
That doesn't necessarily mean AT&T doesn't have a legitimate complaint. The telco points out that Google Voice blocks calls in certain rural areas to cut back costs, something which the phone companies aren't allowed to do. But at least one attorney says the complaint is hypocritical of AT&T.
"The only difference between Google's alleged call blocking and AT&T's refusal to pay terminating access charges for conference and chat-line calls is that the (local carriers) are forced to incur the costs of terminating AT&T's customers' traffic," attorney Ross Buntrock wrote in a letter to the FCC.
So what does Google say about all this? The search giant's stance is that Google Voice isn't a traditional phone service since it uses a Web software tool, and therefor isn't subject to the same rules and regulations as telephone companies.
The ongoing and confusing saga of the iPhone App store continues. This time Apple has approved an official Vonage app with some very familiar features. The Vonage app does standard VoIP via Wi-Fi, as one would expect. However, it also works over the cellular network.
Vonage has clarified that it doesn’t use cellular data, but rather cellular voice. Calls are routed through a special Vonage number allowing very cheap international calls. Sound like anything you know of? Maybe like a little service that starts 'G', and ends with 'oogle Voice'?
Michael Tempora, senior VP of products at Vonage, said that the Vonage app does indeed work in a similar way to Google Voice when used over the cellular network. He went on to say that he saw no reason for Apple to pull the app. “We built the application in complete accordance with Apple’s rules,” he said.
This leaves only a few reasons Apple might have used to reject Google Voice while keeping Vonage. Maybe it was the address book syncing, maybe the free text messaging, or maybe just because it was from Google. Where do you stand? Will Apple yank the Vonage app? Or are they leaving it in to yank Google’s chain?
AT&T has sent a rather pointed letter to the FCC accusing Google of violating Network Neutrality standards. No, that isn’t a typo. AT&T’s beef is that Google Voice will not connect calls to some numbers that traditional telecoms are required to connect. This is because of so-called “common carrier” laws.
Some rural local telephone carriers charge long distance companies extremely high fees to connect calls to certain numbers on their networks. These are usually numbers for conference call centers, adult chat lines, or party lines. Sneakily, revenues from these connections are shared with the owners of the lines. Google Voice does not connect these calls, and AT&T thinks that isn’t fair.
It is interesting that Google, a company that strongly supports Net Neutrality, is taking this course of action. AT&T seems to want them to be treated like any other telecom, but in Google’s response, they lay out their rationale for why AT&T should shut it.
Google says that first and foremost, Google Voice is a free service. To make it workable, they simply cannot spend money to connect those calls. They also say that Google Voice is software, and software isn’t covered by common carriers rules. Finally, they claim that since Google Voice is an invite-only beta service, it doesn’t need to comply with all regulations.
So, is this just AT&T trying to distract the FCC, or is Google really in the wrong here?
More details of Apple’s rejection of Google Voice for the iPhone have come to light. When Google, Apple, and AT&T submitted their letters to the FCC back in August, a large portion of Google’s was redacted. Speculation was that the section (which dealt with what Apple actually told Google) contained descriptions of sensitive correspondence between the two companies.
Today Google allowed the FCC to post the full text. Sure enough, the previously redacted section detailed the contact Apple had with Google. This culminated with none other than Apple Senior VP of Marketing, Phil Schiller, calling Google on July 7 to say the Google Voice app was rejected. This seems to directly contradict Apple’s assertion to the FCC that they hadn’t rejected Google Voice, but were still studying it.
Now the plot thickens even more, as Apple put out a statement saying, "We do not agree with all of the statements made by Google in their FCC letter. Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application and we continue to discuss it with Google." Rejected or not, it still means iPhone users don’t have a Google Voice app. Is Apple arguing semantics here, or just straight-up lying?
Google has just added a pair of nifty Google Voice features into Gmail that you may not have even noticed. The first is an option that integrates text messages sent to Google Voice so that they show up as email messages in Gmail. Text messages are identified as "SMS from (insert name here)," and you can also reply to them from within Gmail. That's pretty groovy if you've ever received a text while sitting at your PC.
The second addition is a new Labs feature that lets users play back Google Voice voicemail messages from within the Gmail viewer. You no longer have to open up a separate browser window to hear the audio.
To turn on the SMS feature, navigate to the Settings tab of Google Voice. For the voicemal player to work, you'll find the option under the Labs tab in Gmail.
When the FCC got involved in the rejection of the Google Voice application for the iPhone, opinions were mixed. While iPhone users almost universally wanted to know where to point the blame, they were also unsure if government intervention was the way to go. Regardless of where you fall on the issue the verdict is in, and it now appears Apple is the guilty party.
In a written response to the FCC, AT&T claims the telecommunications company had “no role in Apple’s consideration of Google Voice or related applications”. The filing also revealed another juicy tidbit of information we’ve all been wondering about for months now. AT&T has actually been involved in the app approval process on at least a handful of occasions, but from what we can tell, this was limited to bandwidth hogging applications such as Pandora, and MobiTV that Apple feared would impact the overall stability of the 3G wireless network.
Apple, knowing that it was caught red handed, was quick to point out in its FCC filing that they have “not rejected the Google Voice Application” and that they “continue to study it”. It appears that the primary reason for the rejection is limited to concerns over how Google Voice alters “the iPhone’s distinctive user experience”. Apple fanboys will no doubt take this reasoning as the directive of Steve Jobs and leave it be, but Google was quick to remind us that Android forces no such restrictions.
“Google doesn’t screen or reject Android Market apps on the basis of content or functionality”. Everyone who uses an iPhone knows they are locked into Steve’s world, but should iPhone users accept that?
In a move that’s both upsetting and not surprising to anyone, Apple has pulled all Google Voice-enabled apps from the App Store, claiming that they have “duplicate features that come with the iPhone.” Well, duh. But, what’s more upsetting is that Apple is blocking Google’s official Google Voice application from the store.
In response, a Google Spokesperson stated, “We work hard to bring Google applications to a number of mobile platforms, including the iPhone. Apple did not approve the Google Voice application we submitted six weeks ago to the Apple App Store. We will continue to work to bring our services to iPhone users — for example, by taking advantage of advances in mobile browsers.”
And sure, it is easy to look at Apple as the bad guy here, but it’s safe to say that a majority of the issue is with AT&T. There’s little doubt that Google Voice has put pressure on mobile carriers, thanks to free SMS messages and cheap long-distance service. Goodness knows that their gigantic world would come crashing down, should they let users participate in a beta.
Forget about dialing into your Google Voice number in order to use the service from your smartphone. Pretty soon, that will be the old-school way of doing things, as Google is releasing a mobile application that allows users to make calls directly from their phone. The caveat? It will only work with Blackberrys and Android phones, although Google did say it is working with Apple to bring its app to the iPhone.
For those with a compatible phone, when making a call with the new app, the recipient will see the user's Google Voice number instead of the mobile phone number. The same applies for text messages. Other features include the ability to more easily access voice mail, and view message transcripts and have them read back to you"karaoke style," as Google calls it, where the words being read are highlighted.
Not everyone will get access to the new features. Currently, Google Voice is by invitation only - sign up here.