The eight telecom companies behind Google Voice - and what it means

The unsurprising truth about new competitors pitching ‘voice 2.0′ services or angling to compete with traditional telcos is that sitting behind them and powering most of their services are … traditional, or at least “semi-traditional” (i.e., more IP-based), telephone companies.googlevoice-color.jpg

Witness the lineup of partners supporting Google Voice, Google’s find-me-follow-me-help-me-manage-my-calls service, which according to docs filed with the FCC (and reported by Business Week) includes:

Level 3 Communications, Global Crossing, Broadvox Communications, Bandwidth.com, Pac-West Telecomm, IBasis, Neustar and Syniverse Technologies.

It’s not so easy to recreate the telephone network, is it?

The counter to that, however, is that it * is * becoming incredibly easy to build and maintain (typically cloud-run) software that can for all intents and purposes recreate and for the most part significantly better traditional telecom services. That a willing ecosystem of wholesalers, carrier’s carriers, number providers/routers and value-added service providers are standing at the ready to help out certainly isn’t anything new (the CLEC market is decades-old and supported by similar-type players), but it is unleashing creativity in the voice 2.0 space.

More importantly, little by little, these would-be competitors are finding success by mining niches: Ribbit with voice-enabled CRM; ifByPhone with self-service, Internet-age call service bureaus; Twilio and others with general-purpose cloud-based telecom APIs that seem to be gaining traction.

The increasingly not-so-secret secret here is that creating a telephone company today is as easy as building an applications company an ISV in the days of the desktop PC. And the suddenly fully emergent world of mobile apps (iPhone and now Android as a second player) means that there is now also a universal client (analagous in the PC world to Windows or the Web browser on the Internet) that will allow developers to drive these services to the mainstream.

Like the word processing market way back when (remember WordStar; I do), there will be some voice 2.0 winners and losers, but the fact that so many would-be competitors keep coming out of the woodwork means it won’t matter that many of these companies will fail. But some will succeed.

Even after covering this fledgling market from the start, I’m not sure I would have written that even six months ago, but the tide feels like it is turning.

Exactly what success will look like for these voice 2.0 companies is the one part of the story yet to be written.

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