Sprint customers soon will be able to use their existing mobile numbers with Google Voice.
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Google and Sprint say they are working together to integrate Google Voice with Sprint's mobile service. The two companies also announced the upcoming availability of Samsung's Nexus S 4G, which will come preloaded with the Google Voice Android app.
Google Voice is commonly characterized as a threat to mobile carriers because it offers services like texting for free and low-rate international calling, and because it makes Google, rather than the mobile carrier, the provider of voicemail service. Companies generally do not welcome third-parties interacting with their customers and providing services when that interaction could interfere with their relationship with their customers.
In 2009, for example, Apple refused to approve the Google Voice app for its iPhone, a move that the company justified by claiming that Google Voice "appears to alter the iPhone's distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone's core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail." In so doing, Apple was defending not only its user interface but its relationship, and AT&T's relationship, with iPhone customers.
But Sprint, as the smallest of the remaining major mobile carriers in the U.S., may face more of a threat from AT&T, which plans to acquire T-Mobile, and from Verizon than from Google. Indeed, Sprint appears to be enthusiastic about turning its voicemail service over to Google.
"It's now easier than ever to truly live a mobile lifestyle with the ability to manage multiple devices through intelligent call routing and online controls using just one phone number – your existing Sprint number," said Kevin McGinnis, Sprint VP of product and technology development, in a statement.
Google Voice has several million users and could double or triple in size if only a small portion of Sprint's 50 million customers decide to use the service.
Google Voice provides a single number that can route calls to multiple devices and through Gmail, along with other services like voicemail transcription, free text messaging, and low-rate international calling. It also allows personalized voicemail greeting messages, call recording and call blocking.
Sprint customers will be able to access to these services through their existing mobile numbers. Voice calls initiated through Gmail and text messages sent through Google Voice will utilize this same number, eliminating the confusion arising from having an existing mobile number and a new Google Voice number.
If Sprint customers choose to maintain separate Google Voice numbers, they will have the option to use their Google Voice numbers for calls or text messages sent through their Sprint handset.