In its effort to not be evil while taking over the universe, Google yesterday launched a free phone service you punch up from its Gmail program. The service allows you to dial any number in the U.S. and Canada for free.
Why would Google smack AT&T? More likely, it’s worried about Facebook, which has 500 million users and could soon launch its own calling or video-calling technology. Imagine the lock-in Facebook could achieve by adding the ability to record snippets, post to your stream, ring all your friends now online. So Google has elevated its Gmail game, leaving AT&T long distance a bit out in future third place. Play the game downstream to a world of mobile tablets with mics and webcams, and free two-way video may arrive sooner than you think.
In a few weeks Facebook will join internet voice players such as Skype by offering voice chat. That’s right — Facebook phone service. You will sign up by installing a simple plug-in from Vivox, and away you go, chatting with Facebook friends.
Thank “Voice over Internet Protocol” (VoIP), the fancy technical term for phone calls sent over the internet instead of the old public telephone networks. The revolution of VoIP is driven by a little pricing secret — your old phone company charges you for voice transmission based on time, but internet costs are tied to the amount of data transmitted. The difference is like that of a lawyer who charges you based on the good ideas he provides instead of by the hour. Since the actual data sent in a phone call is relatively low, internet calls are exponentially cheaper than old-school phone minutes, and service providers can give it away practically for free.
Finally, human networks out of the office?
The Facebook voice service has several hooks designed to make it scale in adoption — it will include free dial-in numbers to set up conference calls, and Vivox is making its system available to all other third-party developers so they can add voice to their Facebook plug-ins. Players of those dreadful Mobster/Farmville games on Facebook can soon talk with their fellow gamers. Mashable reports Facebook is working on a video version, too.
Play it forward and the future will give you video conferencing standard on every computer or handset, as cheap as water from a spigot. Telecommuting will finally take off. Ad agencies could form using virtual communities of the best talent around the globe. Businesses will create partnerships quickly without plane flights or time-intensive proposals. Teens will go to college without moving away from home, saving room and board. As the surge in cheap video transmission erodes wireless revenues, companies such as AT&T will need to innovate more rapidly in product design and services to defend their customer base. Driven by this competition, mobile phones get exponentially sexier, adding new features. And marketers, faced with a vast increase in video inventory, will finally work on one-to-one personalization to make their messages break through the content supply overload.
All of which means that by 2015 you, with a tiny glass handset, will video-conference in the pizza delivery guy, who in turn remembers exactly how much you love double pepperoni.
Image: 2 Dogs.
Speaking of Google, the search giant just announced it will provide a free phone service starting today for domestic calls in the U.S. We’d go on and bore you with the details — it has free transcriptions of voicemail! AT&T doesn’t, so will AT&T fold? will Google take a bite out of Skype’s $500 million in revenue? will phone calls serve you contextual ads for pizza when you tell your spouse “Honey, I’m running late and starving”? — but let’s not.
Instead, reflect on this simple quote from Vincent Paquet, who founded GrandCentral, the acquired baseline for Google’s new free dailing: “The notion of long-distance calling is becoming less and less relevant every day.” As all services become data and access to data becomes ubiquitous, the margins people once earned by bridging the gap between data supply and demand will go away. In the 1970s your aunt in far-flung Montana sounded like she was speaking from a well. Today, it costs less to call, because geography has been bent until her voice is right next door.
Photo: Kenzie W.
The Internet’s pipes are starting to get full.
Seems back in the 1990s’ investment bubble, telecom companies laid down an Internet highway system ready for us all to jump on. Trouble is, the growth of video use — especially illegal peer-to-peer file sharing — is starting to choke the pipes. A year ago Deloitte’s telecommunications forecast noted that one-third of all Internet traffic was P2P file sharing, that the terabit-capable tubes connecting the continents were clogged — and most important, telecommunications giants were losing enthusiasm for investing in new infrastructure.
Video and GPS and file downloads may soon hit a wall. The new Apple 3G iPhone has had reports of dropped calls, with finger-pointing over whether it’s the radio chip in the phone or the AT&T network stretched too far causing trouble. In its latest 2008 report, Deloitte estimates there are 330 million households in the world with broadband appliances that demand faster Internet speeds … yet the global credit crunch is stifling the tens of billions of dollars of investment required to provide it.
So rumblings are emerging. ISPs are considering variable fees to tax, or slow, heavy users. Some are getting serious: Comcast just announced that as of Oct. 1 it will limit residential customers’ Internet use to 250 gigabytes per month, the equivalent of downloading 125 movies or 62,000 songs; cross the line and you’ll get a warning, and then be shut down for a year. Even Google is anticipating pinch points, and has put the right to install a “fixed upper limit” on Internet transmissions in the user agreement of its new Chrome web browser.
Consumers want it all. Businesses that build gadgets or portals want to provide it. Internet backbone, are you strong enough?