Yeah, yeah, Skype is cool for boomers and seniors -- especially grandparents. Free video conferencing with the grandkids and free long-distance calls -- even if some of them are a bit flaky in quality, probably due to a poor Internet connection. And the teaser (of course) is to upgrade you to their low, low international long distance phone plans. Okay, sounds good -- and I know folks love it -- "Do you Skype?" is a frequent starter for planning a meeting. But let's just forget Skype for a minute -- a jaw-dropping service may be around the corner -- Google Voice.
Google has snuck up on the long distance world -- and said 'Boo'. Google grabbed a million phone numbers from Level 3, according to NetworkWorld, and in the past few weeks has enabled users to sign up online and be 'invited' to select one of those numbers, which can be in your standard local area code, selected by you from a displayed list. What can you do with that number? Well that's the game changer, as they like to say in the tech world.
Get rid of domestic long distance plans -- no Internet required. You dial that number from your land line in your local area code and then any number in the US that you want to dial -- you call for free. That means a) no need for domestic long-distance service from your home base, b) no need to be on the Internet to initiate the call. That's free and it's not through your (potentially lousy) Internet service. Want to know more?
Boost for small business. Expand on that feature list,says NetworkWorld: "you can access the kind of advanced features that would normally require either paying fees to your local phone company or setting up your own office PBX. For example, you can forward calls to up to six other phones, make free text messages, take voice mail messages and set up four-person conference calls."
Free means free -- for now. So let's think about what that means. Well, a 'free' US long-distance calling model that doesn't require you to use an Internet service to launch it -- that means calling plans can be slashed back to minimalist levels if friends and family are in the US. But if the Internet is unavailable and you have a BlackBerry (not from an iPhone app, since it seems to have been banned), you can access the Google Voice user interface, ask it to dial a number and present that call to you on any one of your multiple pre-configured call forwarding land line phones.
I dunno -- it seems important. What do you think?