RealTime IT News

Google Makes It Official, Grabs VoIP Firm Gizmo5

Google has confirmed that it acquired Gizmo5, a San Diego-based Internet phone startup, for an undisclosed sum.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) plans to integrate the VoIP provider's technology into Google Voice, the firm's omnibus telephony application.

Announcing the deal in a blog post, Google Voice product managers Wesley Chan and Craig Walker did not offer a glimpse into any features that could come from the integration, but said that Gizmo5 engineers would be joining Google to work on the two products.

The acquisition was first reported on the technology blog TechCrunch.

It remains unclear how Gizmo5 will be integrated into Google's expanding telephony venture, but it appears to take the firm one step closer to a full-fledged VoIP service that could rival Skype.

The Google Talk product already enables users to make voice and video calls from one computer to another, though there is no connection to traditional landline or wireless phone numbers.

Meantime, the higher-profile Google Voice is not a VoIP service itself, but it comes awfully close. Google Voice sets up an online clearinghouse for users' multiple phone numbers, offering the ability to route calls through a single number, as well as a host of other bells and whistles, such as voice-mail transcription and blocking unwanted calls.

But Google Voice is not set up to be a substitute for wireline or cellular service. Google Voice, though it issues users a unique number to access the service, still requires users to have a phone number through an outside provider, and sources at Google have said they have no plans to depart from that model anytime soon.

In fact, Google is in the process of negotiating number-porting deals with carriers to bring the full complement of Google Voice services under the mantle of a Google-issued number.

Google recently rolled out a scaled-down version of its Voice service, dubbed Google Voice Lite, that allows people to use the service without taking a new number from Google, at the expense of some of the features, such as sending SMS messages through e-mail.

Google also knows that it has to tread carefully with its entrée into the telephony sector. Google Voice has already come under scrutiny from the Federal Communications Commission for its policy of restricting calls in certain rural areas. AT&T and several like-minded lawmakers have argued to the commission that Google's selective offering of the free service runs counter to its long-standing support of Net neutrality, and made the case that Google Voice is a telecommunications service subject to government regulation.

Google, of course, has disputed that claim, arguing that Voice is nothing more than a software application, explaining that the call restrictions are limited to a small number of rural numbers that engage in so-called traffic pumping schemes, teaming with call-center providers and adult chat services to drive up connection fees.

Members of the Google Voice team have been in Washington this week demonstrating the product to staffers at the FCC.