Sunday, April 24, 2011

Google Voice and Sprint Wireless: the Quiet Telecomm Deal

(Reposted from FDL about a month ago, where it go no attention. The service is rolling out Tuesday, and this seems a good time for a repost.)

The media is all agog with the planned purchase of T-Mobile’s US operation by last-wave carrier AT&T. The combined carrier would be a force to be reckoned with, and be in a much better position to pressure Apple and Google and consumers and terrify Sprint management. Meantime, Google and Sprint have quietly announced integration between Google Voice and Sprint Wireless.

Over time, we’ve worked to bring an integrated Google Voice experience to your mobile device by building mobile apps, introducing Google Voice Lite, and most recently Number Porting. But we felt that ultimately, the most simple solution would be to partner with carriers to seamlessly integrate Google Voice with your mobile phone. Today, we’d like to share that we’ve teamed up with Sprint to do just that. (link)
OVERLAND PARK, Kan., March 21, 2011 – Sprint (NYSE: S) and Google announced today a new integrated Google Voice™ experience that will allow Sprint customers to set their existing Sprint wireless phone number as their Google Voice number. Sprint customers will be able to take advantage of all the features and benefits of Google Voice without the hassle and fees associated with porting their number. Sprint is the first and only carrier to offer this capability, which will be available soon on all Sprint CDMA phones. (link)

I’m still thinking over the implications. Google has long wanted access to the wireless tele­com­mun­i­ca­tions market, but the history, business practices, and regulatory clout of the major carriers have limited their ambition. With this deal with the relatively smaller carrier Sprint may have given Google their in, much as AT&T gave Apple their in. Sprint has an excellent wireless data network, second, so far as this bird can tell, only to Verizon, and Google gets to distribute its services–and advertising–through that network. Sprint, of course, gets the support of one of the largest and most successful internet firms. If Google acquired Sprint the deal would be subject to careful anti-trust scrutiny but, so far as I can tell, there is no anti-trust issue here: neither Google Voice nor Sprint is a large enough service to create a combined monopoly, or even much of a market force: this deal is made in the hope of growth, rather than to purchase market share. On the other hand, there is a clash of corporate cultures. Google takes as its motto, “Don’t be evil.” Sprint, on the other hand, provides notoriously poor customer service, apparently by policy. How this will play out in the marketplace is hard to imagine: Google does not take kindly to brand dilution and Sprint is not likely to deal well with requests from Google to provide better service to Google Voice users.