I know that enterprise services like SalesForce.com have ramped up their game to deliver reliability. They, and others like them are entirely different. They may be hosted afar, or even cloud-based, but they’re not free. They know that to sustain their business they need to deliver a reliable service. And they know that every single account, their entire business, hinges on that very fact. Not so with Google. They’re considerably less focused.
Our hosted PBX provider, OnSIP has been extremely reliable over the past two years. This has convinced me that hosted services are acceptable in some situations, even for business telephony. But I’m still very careful about support. Reliability is key, but responsiveness of support during failures is even more critical. That’s an issue that can be impacted as a service provider grows, so it needs to be watched over time.
In a troubled economy everyone wants a good deal, but sometimes the best deal is not the cheapest. Any company can sell a service for a low price, but does the support effort scale proportionally? What good is getting the best price if it also results in limited support hours, too few staff or no means of direct contact?
Providing good support costs real money. Support staff worth having must be recruited, trained and then (hopefully) retained. We still maintain Covad DSL in the face of numerous, mostly cheaper alternatives, largely because their first-tier support staff can actually spell IP. Also, in five years I’ve never had a problem with them that couldn’t be resolved quickly by first tier support.
Then there’s the Google Voice service itself. It’s pretty good. But it’s also lacking in some fundamental ways. For example, why is Gizmo5 the only SIP service I can use in call forwarding? That’s just lame.
I might like to use GV directly with my Insert-Your-Favorite-SIP-Desk-Phone-Here desk phone. Interacting through Gizmo5 just adds an unnecessary layer of complexity. Amongst other things, greater support for SIP interaction would open the door to wideband audio and help hasten the adoption of SIP URIs as an alternative to phone numbers in daily life. It would also allow integration with Asterisk or FreeSwitch in a manner that was more than a clever hack.
GV is in some ways elevating the telecom experience of the average person to be more like that of someone working in a large enterprise with a UC solution in place. That’s certainly commendable. Yet various aspects of GV tend to indicate that they’re still working to emulate the telecom services of the past, not seeking to define how we’ll use voice in the future.
For Google Voice to hold much interest for me they have to deal with issues like porting numbers, service level agreements (SLA) and giving customers a means of contacting real people when there is a problem. All these are the hallmarks of what could be a paid version of the service, a “Pro” version of you like.
In reality, it’ll need to be a more compelling solution than what we have in place right now. They have a lot of the pieces in place, but they still have some distance to go. Until then, and in my world, it’s merely a novelty.
Update: John Hermansen of GIPS has a very interesting post called How Does Google Voice Make Money?