Sprint: Google Voice deal 'extremely important'

Not only can Sprint offer more forwarding and voicemail options with Google Voice, but the cooperation between the two companies also makes financial sense for Sprint.

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ORLANDO, Fla.-- Sprint and Google on Monday announced a partnership that turns your Sprint number into a Google Voice number and gives you access to visual voicemail and call forwarding to multiple devices. Yet it wasn't until yesterday that the two stood together here to discuss the merits of the deal for both sides.

We heard from Vincent Paquet, Google's product manager for Google Voice, but it was Sprint's Kevin McGinnis, Vice President of Product, who made the biggest case for the team-up. "This is an extremely important event for Sprint," he said at CTIA 2011, because the carrier can offer existing Google Voice users the chance to condense the current two-number problem of Google Voice into one. The deal also gives new users the chance to get Google Voice's expanded voice mail service, call forwarding, and cheap international calls on a phone number they've had for years--and even on basic handsets.

McGinnis gave us even more reasons when he sat down with CNET after the CTIA demo. While Sprint may tout its openness and flexibility in giving its customers greater telephony options through Google Voice, Sprint is also banking on the service's appeal to retain existing subscribers, attract existing Google Voice users to Sprint, and drive new sign-ons.

For Sprint, the deal "is a strategic pillar to drive growth and strength in the brand," McGinnis said. "We may not have the resources and innovation" to offer those types of services. But Google does.

In terms of technology, the match-up is also a good fit. Sprint already has network protocols in place for cable partners to use Sprint's digital voice service behind the scenes, so the integration wasn't too challenging, McGinnis said.

Vincent Paquet, senior product manager for Google Voice. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Revenue losses: why worry?
When Google Voice first began gaining momentum, the Internet buzz was that telecoms should be worried. Surely Google's free domestic texting to the U.S. and Canada via its Web interface and mobile apps would chip away at carriers' profits. Not so, says McGinnis. Sprint is pushing for subscribers to use all-in-one data plans, so the revenue gained from individual texts won't matter in the long run, and anyway, the mash-up still gives Sprint free reign over SMS and MMS sent natively from the phone. (Google Voice doesn't currently offer photo or video messaging.)

As for Google Voice's cheap international calls, there's already a precedent for lower pricing and collaboration. Verizon, for instance, began testing the waters with that when it signed with Skype, a popular VoIP provider, to put Skype Mobile on select handsets.

What's more, handing Google the voice mail and call forwarding reins is cost-effective. The price of research and development for the Google Voice service is on Google's shoulders, not Sprint's, and so is support. The upshot of this deal is that if Google expands its user base as a result to a greater number of mainstream consumers, it'll be forced to perfect its services--like often-inaccurate computer-aided voicemail transcription --to meet customer demand.

For a carrier about to be in a sticky situation as a result of Sunday's announced merger between rivals AT&T and T-Mobile USA , anything Sprint can do to reduce costs while adding new services is an important event indeed.

Article updated at 8:03PM ET to correct McGinnis' title.

 

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