Internet giant Google (GOOG) is making its Web-based calling system, Google Voice, available to the public after a year-long testing process. The free service provides a new phone number which directs incoming calls to your mobile, home and office numbers.
Additional features include voicemail text transcriptions, which can then be sent to you via email or text message, free outbound domestic calls, super low-cost international calls, and free conference call setup. Google Voice began as a service called GrandCentral, which the web giant bought in 2007.
For now, the service requires users to have phone service of some kind, either mobile and land-line, but the Google's end-game has never been in doubt: the wholesale replacement of traditional phone service with a Web-based phone product along the lines of Skype.
"Just Scratching the Surface"
Google Voice applications are available for phones running the company's Android mobile operating system, as well as the BlackBerry (RIMM) and iPhone platforms, although Apple (AAPL) initially blocked the service, before relenting.
"We're proud of the progress we've made with Google Voice over the last few years, and we're still just scratching the surface of what's possible when you combine your regular phone service with the latest web technology," Google Voice Product Managers Craig Walker and Vincent Paquet wrote in a company blog post.
Last November, Google paid $30 million for Gizmo5, an Internet phone startup which has developed the technology to connect web-based calls to mobile phones and land-lines. Google Voice already has 1 million users, and the company says it has the capacity to handle what is sure to be an influx of new users.
Cue the Lawsuits
Not surprisingly, major players in the telecom space view Google Voice as a threat. Just as Google opened the service up the public, the company was slapped with a lawsuit by Connecticut-based Frontier Communications charging that the service violates the company's patents.
"Google's deliberate infringement of the patent has greatly and irreparably damaged Frontier," according to the complaint. Specifically, Frontier says Google is infringing on technology it own which allows users to receive calls on multiple phones using one number -- a core feature of Google Voice.
In an email, A Google spokesperson told DailyFinance: "We believe these claims are entirely without merit, and we'll defend vigorously against them."