Google Voice is preparing to support mobile number portability. This means you can transfer control of your number from your providers to Google. This has great benefits for you as listed below but also need to note that this is one small but important step in the complete transformation of communications services that is quietly going on as we speak.
A communications service – data, voice, video – shouldn’t not be glued to the transport pipe (a carrier, ISP, etc.). Your number is one piece of this and there are other parts moving – like Skype video on mobile phones. Eventually we’ll have this separation and you’ll control all media sessions – phone calls, video calls, emails, text messages, instant messages, tweets, status updates etc. – according to your needs. You’ll become the center of your communications world instead of needing to manage multiple providers and disjointed communications streams. That’s true “unified communications”. There will be layers that enable you to have this control, but they won’t be the same layers that provide the pipes and carrier services.
Ok, back to Google voice and number porting. What’s in it for you?
- When people call your number, you can control what happens. For example, if you are traveling internationally you may route callers to your voicemail or to a VoIP phone. Or you can customize so that some people go to voicemail and others go to your mobile phone.
- Voicemails become like emails. You can search through them, label them etc. You can convert them to text messages with decent results. You can even start to listen to a voicemail in real-time and then switch over to pick up the call if you decide you want to talk.
- You won’t have to port numbers every time you change mobile phone providers. Google can route your number to any provider.
See videos at Google Voice for more details.
Meanwhile, I can’t think of too many advantages of letting your mobile provider control your number instead of Google. Can you?
There will be two interesting ramifications to keep an eye on:
- The paradigm of the US mobile carriers, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint etc., is when you port your number off their service, you also terminate your service. With Google Voice, you might keep Verizon as your mobile carrier, but port your number itself to Google so that you can take advantage of the Google Voice features. It is possible some mobile carriers flat out won’t support it, or at least give a date well in the future by which they’ll support it. It is possible others will charge for the service – both an early termination fee and a supplementary fee on top of that. Since Google isn’t a licensed carrier (see below), I’m not sure the FCC could require a mobile carrier to support a port of this nature.
- The FCC. Google isn’t a licensed carrier. I still don’t think they fit the definition of an entity that should be required to become a licensed carrier. But that doesn’t mean the FCC won’t mandate that Google become a licensed carrier of some sort in order to provide their Google Voice services.