Google's VoIP and Gmail Integration
Google Voice and Phone service
VoIP has been around for quite a while. Providers like Skype have been quietly ratcheting up subscribers and for a long time there wasn't a real viable alternative. As a result, the world got used to the Skype way of working and the general impression that people had of VoIP was that it required both users to sit in front of the PC.
Eventually however, it became popular to call people on their regular phones using VoIP for a small fee that pretty much dwarfed the call rates that every regular PSTN based provider was offering. However, it still meant that one of the parties had to sit in front of a computer with the software running - usually with a set of headphones and a microphone.
That's why Google Voice came along and changed everything. It was the first company to make callbacks an easy to use feature. Additionally, it gave everyone a number which wasn't linked to any specific device, but could be associated with many devices, meaning that a person with many telephone numbers could have all of the instruments ring at the same time and pick up whichever one he or she was closest to.
It was something that hadn't been done before and it slowly began to change the way people thought about VoIP.
Integrating Gmail and VoIP
A few days ago, Google announced that users could use voice services right from their Gmail account. Meaning that a person in the US could call any telephone in the world for rates that beat any other voice provider in the world - even Skype. Moreover, calls made the US and Canada are free!
It's tough to believe that such a service can exist, but Google's has just offered it. The free calling in the US will only last till the end of the year - presumably so that lots of people start using the service as a kickstart mechanism.
This plan on the part of Google hinges on the fact that there's a huge user base of Gmail users. Since you won't need to have a Skype account or even run the Skype application, it makes a whole lot of sense to use this service instead of Skype. It's definitely something that I will be using from now on.
Of course, it won't replace a hosted business phone system - it's strictly for the average consumer. If you're a business and want to lower your telephone bills, you need to get a hosted VoIP PBX system to reduce your phone costs and get features you never thought possible.