Why Google Voice Won’t Kill Skype (or Cell Phones, or…)

Simply put:  They aren’t the same thing!

I am reminded of the old BASF motto “They don’t make the things we use, they make the things we use better.”  That fits Google Voice to a “T.”

I have read over the past few months many articles warning that Skype (and even the cell phone) is doomed, and that Google Voice will replace it.  Most (like How Google Voice can kill Skype ) simply miss the point.  Google Voice is not a phone service.  It is not VOIP.  Google Voice connects existing phone numbers through a Universal number.  But it does not actually make the call for you through the internet.

Skype, as a VOIP (or Voice Over Internet Protocol) actually makes the call through the internet.  I use a computer (which may be  a desktop, a notebook/netbook, or even a cell phone that has WiFi) to make the call.  And yes, Skype lets me receive calls by allowing me to “purchase” a SkypeIn number, and allows me through SkypeOut to call real numbers.  But it is still VOIP.  I am calling from a computer, using the internet to make the call.

Google Voice doesn’t do that (although Google Talk might someday fill that gap).  Google Voice lets me route calls to and from my existing phones using my existing service providers.  Therefore, I can send an receive calls using my cell phone and AT&T, my work phone through Verizon, my home phone (again, Verizon) and yes, even my “SkypeIn” phone number.  But it, in and of itself, isn’t providing the call.

So I ask you–why can’t these “techy people” seem to figure this out?

NB:  Google has added voice and video chat to gMail, which does target Skype.  And because I can can send and receive SMS through a web interface, I can step away from certain aspects of my cellphone (at the loss of portability).  But at it’s heart Google Voice is still more of a turbo charging kit for your phone use than a replacement.


9 thoughts on “Why Google Voice Won’t Kill Skype (or Cell Phones, or…)

  1. Steve, GV is most definitely VOIP… simply because it’s using IP technology to make voice calls. Just because it’s not starting or ending with a computer doesn’t make it not VOIP.
    … and your guess about Google Talk being the conduit for that is smart… I think Google’s plan is integrate those services to undercut (at the very least) cell carriers’ outrageous SMS prices.

    Even now, with an iPhone and PUSH IM, I use SMS less because of IM… but when Google comes out with an app that can push SMS messages to me instead of sending them to AT&T…. well, baby we’re in for a ride!

  2. Justin

    First, thanks for writing! What I am going to write from here forward is meant solely as clarification of my perspective and to facilitate discussion.

    Perhaps I am a bit confused, but it is my understanding that (at least from the consumer perspective) VOIP involves using a broadband internet connection to initiate, or receive, the call–and carry the voice over the internet connection. That is why I (still) believe Google Voice is not “VOIP.”

    Specifically, Google Voice is an enabler that allows me to make and receive calls from any telephonic technology, and thus a call may, but need not, originate or terminate with a broadband connection. My understanding seems to be supported by the FCC at their site http://www.fcc.gov/voip/ when they state that:

    “Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), is a technology that allows you to make voice calls using a broadband Internet connection instead of a regular (or analog) phone line. Some VoIP services may only allow you to call other people using the same service, but others may allow you to call anyone who has a telephone number – including local, long distance, mobile, and international numbers. Also, while some VoIP services only work over your computer or a special VoIP phone, other services allow you to use a traditional phone connected to a VoIP adapter. “

    Of course, if Google is then in some way actually carrying the call through a VoIP adapter, then it is VOIP, but that is not obvious to the consumer. Would we have to say that all calls are VOIP if at some point Verizon started using IP protocols when sending calls through the Fiber Cables? (Or conversely, do they?)

    — Steve B

  3. Steve, I think the FCC’s definition of VOIP is unnecessarily narrow. VOIP stands for “Voice Over Internet Protocol” which implies (and means) that when voice is being transmitted over the internet… it’s VOIP.

    Google is most definitely routing all GV calls through the internet. They essentially connect two real phone lines by tapping into the internet to send the signal rather than paying a telco like AT&T (too much) to do the same thing. They still have to pay to get the call connected at the ends… but the only difference between a GV call and a Vonage-to-landline call is that GV is connecting BOTH ends of the call to a “real” telco number. Does that make sense?

    Because of this, they could very easily have a box (like Ooma) that acts as the physical manifestation of VOIP that consumers are used to. This means my GV number could be used when picking up to place calls from my home phone! This isn’t a pipe dream, though. In fact, this synergy WILL happen: http://ow.ly/fSGM (scroll to the bottom of the article for Ooma stuff)

    And, no, I doubt it will kill Skype anytime soon. Skype has adaped well to changing markets and probably will continue… but with things like Ooma and GoogleTalk being integrated with the already powerful telephony features of Google Voice, this will be a very very interesting space to watch!

  4. Google Voice is a fully functional VOIP service, it just doesn’t accept SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) connections from people (Right now the only SIP connections Google Voice supports are ones from Gizmo5, which means that you basically have to pay for calls.) This means you can only call out using their website client or mobile client, and there is no way to directly receive calls to a phone without some intermediary service. You can read http://nerdvittles.com/?p=630 for more information.

    Hopefully, they will let you have SIP access in the future. If they do, you can use Google Voice as a connection to the outside world from any phone so long as you have a working gateway. In addition, if they let you use a SIP number instead of a traditional phone number for incoming calls (think email address, except its a phone number), you could even receive calls through the same service!

    Now considering this IS Google after all, they still might be recording all of the phone calls that take place, so you would have to be careful who you call.

  5. GV is definitely VOIP as I can call from my iPhone when I have no cell service over GV to any US phone #. This had been great, I wish I knew you could do it before I signed up for unlimited Skype. Would be nice if it could receive calls over the internet as well like some new T-Mobile Blackberrys can do now when they are out of cell service and only have an internet connection. I hope that’s in the works as its a serious limitation for someone like me who lives in an area outside cell service…

  6. Mike

    I guess I am at a loss here. How were you able to call from your iPhone with no cell service, using JUST Google Voice? I also have used the GV Mobile app to connect calls, having GV call me at my landline, and then connect me to whomever I am calling. I have also used it to connect to my skype number. But I have not heard that GV was, itself, a service that would connect my voice to someone I was calling.

    Perhaps I missed a feature somewhere? I look forward to the tutorial 🙂

  7. Adam

    Thanks for the clarification and explanation about SIP. Could you please explain one more thing for me though? I am curious what the definition of VOIP is that seems to apply. As I wrote in my reply to Mike, I didn’t realize that we could actually place voice calls directly from google voice, over the internet, rather than simply using it as a “high tech” telephone switching operator. I always welcome more information!


  8. Well, I am going to have to investigate further too. I am traveling now, but at my home I have no cell service. When I got GV last week I was setting it up at my home and I placed a call to my home line using GV Mobile and it rang. I did this several times. Now I did not pick up the phone on the other end, but I will try that when I return home next week! It did however initiate a call and my phone rang without cell service…

  9. Ah okay, so it is calling your existing land-line phone, and connecting you with the other number you are calling. Yes, that is a feature I use all the time.

    I am not trying to be argumentative, it’s just that I am unconvinced that this fits the definition of VOIP that the FCC has been using, and that “most” people would consider to be a VOIP service–that is, *I* am not using an internet connection on my end to transmit and receive voice calls.

    I am certainly willing to agree that Google may well be transmitting the calls using “Voice over Internet protocols” (but then again, for all we know, every major phone provider is converting our calls to digital VOIP packets as intermediary transport in any of our calls.)

    I think more than anythig this is a definitional discussion–consumers see VOIP technology as using the internet, at either point of origin or point of destination to not only place the call but carry the call as well.

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