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Google Voice eyeing carrier tie-ups beyond Sprint

Almost a year ago, Sprint became the first and only carrier to seamlessly integrate Google Voice into its service. Now Sprint may lose that edge.

Google Voice + Sprint
Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Sprint's reign as the only carrier to integrate Google Voice into its cell phone service could be coming to an end.

"We are having discussions with other carriers about this," Vincent Paquet, Group Product Manager for Google Voice, told CNET in an interview. He declined to name specific carriers.

Google's Paquet added that the existing partnership, which lets Sprint customers easily turn their handset number into a Google Voice number, has been successful.

Google Voice gives users access to visual voicemail that you can read on the phone or online, personalized greetings, and cheaper international calls, among other perks.

Although anyone can port their phone number to a Google Voice account, Sprint's offering doesn't include the $20 porting charge, is simpler to set up online, and let you unlink the Sprint phone if you already have an account.

"Sprint integration has worked really well," Paquet said. "We have, since Day One, had a steady stream of people signing up for it."

When the two companies teamed up, Sprint also noted the benefits. "This is an extremely important event for Sprint," the carrier's Vice President of Platforms and Services, Kevin McGinnis, told CNET last May after Google and Sprint signed the deal.

At the time, the Sprint/Google team-up gave Sprint a unique service and a way to extend its brand without having to shoulder the costs of extra voicemail features like free message transcription.

People who use Google Voice tend to do so as their primary number, or as their chief way of managing voicemail, Google's Paquet added, which brings value to both Sprint and Google Voice brands.

Google isn't announcing anything about expanding to a second carrier, but now it's clear that a similar partnership with another carrier isn't out of the question. It wasn't clear last May that the Sprint and Google had signed an exclusivity agreement.

The possibility of other carriers officially bringing Google Voice into the fold is certainly intriguing. It could further mainstream the service and make its products even more indispensable -- especially on Android, Google's mobile platform. Sprint, in the meantime, would need to find a new way to differentiate itself from its rivals.