Saturday, March 14, 2009

Voicing its way ahead

It appears any and all news in the online world in the recent past has been doomed to be focussed on the GoogApp duo ! Be it Apple' announcement on its new iPhone OS or Google's launch of a souped up Grand Central or the more controversial move to have behavioral targeting in adsense !   

Google's frontal move into voice appears, as always, ominous to the telcos that have hitherto survived in locking out users in closed environments. Google's attempts to open this ecosystem up, with all its efforts on spectrum/platforms/handsets, whilst having minimal immediate real impact, are however forcing telcos to go in directions that they have resisted up until now. Whilst Google has thus far restricted itself to what can best be described as Guerilla tactics in targeting telcos, Google Voice goes a step forward and takes the competition right into the backyard of the operators. With free domestic calls in the US, and low rate international calling, Google appears to be looking at a revenue stream that goes beyond its staple diet of search advertising. Of course, directory services will likely be a focus and be tightly integrated with Google Voice. However, I am more inclined to look at this launch as an acknowledgment of the fact that establishing platforms and ensuring Android based handset uptake grows is an uphill task. In its home market, Google is yet to tie up with the top two operators for the Android platform. And with the global handset market showing clear signs of losing steam, mobile advertising could take that much more time in becoming mainstream. And it is in this backdrop that Google's launch of Google Voice appears all the more interesting. Instead of building an ecosystem that is favorable to its core business from ground up, Google appears to have realized the advantages of taking a multi-pronged approach that effectively uses their repertoire of acquisitions.   

Telcos will definitely not be pleased with Google's latest move. However, there's little that they could do, other than accept the fact that their distance from the consumer is rapidly increasing. Being a dumb pipe now appears to be thrust upon them, even when it comes to delivering their core service, voice!  And while the extent of upside for Google is debatable, what appears certain is the downside for telcos that competition of this nature is likely to bring to the overall telco industry.

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