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Google Got Your Number

Date: 12/23/2007 11:57:08 AM

Google has been making wireless headlines recently with its new operating system for cellphones, Android, as well as its decision to build open wireless networkswhich fly in the face of traditional networks run by operators like AT&T Wireless. But its not yet entirely clear just how this will change the way you use your wireless devices.

But Google (nasdaq: GOOG news people ) could have something else up its sleeve. In mid 2007, the company acquired the Fremont, Calif.based company GrandCentral Communications. The terms were not disclosed, but the company has long been known for its innovative services. GrandCentral was founded in 2000 by nowCEO Craig Walker and Chief Operating Officer Vincent Paquet. In its early days, the company procured around $4 million in funding from CNET founder Halsey Minors Minor Ventures.

The idea behind GrandCentral: A phone number, and the voicemail box(es) associated with it, should not be tied to a location or even to your job. Instead, the numbers should be tied to you as an individual. If you have a few different phone numberssay, one for work, one at home and one for your cellphoneGrandCentrals service will let you use just one number that can ring on all, some, or none of your phones, based on whos calling.

Another smart feature: The service gives you one central voice mailbox. So you can listen to your voice mail messages online or from any phone, forward them to anybody, add the caller to your address book, block a caller as spamand much more. You can even listen in on voice mail messages from your phone as theyre being recorded (as is possible with an "oldfashioned" answering machine), or transfer a call from your cell phone to your desk phone and back again.

This all reminds me of a very forwardlooking story Andy Seybold wrote in 2003, in an issue of a newsletter, called Wireless Outlook, that he published in conjunction with Forbes. Andys lead story in June 2003 was called "Phone Number for Life." He was talking about local number portability for mobile phones, which is now commonplaceGrandCentrals service takes this service a step further, beyond just wireless telephony.

GrandCentrals Webbased service is called One Number for Life, and so far, its been offered for free. (You can sign up for the service at helping you organize and manage calls and messages, you can also personalize ringback tones and greetings for individuals in your address book. Using the service does not require you to change phones or carriers.

When you sign up, youll get a choice of local numbers, based on your area code. You can then configure your account by linking the number GrandCentral gives you to your home number, office number and cellphone number. When a call comes in, all the configured phones will ring. You can choose which phone to pick upso if youre at home, you can pick up the call on your landline phone to and avoid paying for minutes on your wireless phone.

You have a number of other options as well: You can accept the call, send it to voice mail, listen to it as the voice mail is being recorded, and pick up if you want to. You can even switch phones in the middle of a live callsay, home phone to mobile, or mobile to desk phoneseamlessly, with the use of a simple keypad command. When a caller reaches the subscribers GrandCentral number, a softswitch queries the configured feature set and takes appropriate action.

One avenue Google will surely pursue is linking up GrandCentrals features with its other Webbased productivity tools, namely, its email service, Gmail, and its VOIP service, GTalk. Of course, the bigger question is whether Google can succeed in using its handy arsenal of Web tools to crack into Microsofts Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT news people ) desktop dominance and prove a real threat to ubiquitous software like Outlook.

Android, open wireless networks, GrandCentral, GmailGoogle is clearly executing a bigpicture plan to be at the forefront of the digital age, and wireless services will likely be a core strength for the company. I believe well be seeing a lot more from Google in 2008 on the wireless front.

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