Google is launching a feature that will allow you to call phones from your Gmail account and the effort could derail Skype's big plans for the enterprise.
In a nutshell, Google will enable voice calls for free for a year from Gmail. Calls to other countries will run you 2 cents a minute. Prepare yourself for a bevy of "Skype killer" headlines. Clearly, Google is taking aim at Skype, but the real battlefront will occur in the enterprise. Gmail voice calls may not land in Google Apps this minute---the official word is that voice calling won't be in Google Apps yet---but rest assured the feature will wind up as a business tool.
Google hasn't been shy about its enterprise efforts. Enterprises are either rolling out Google Apps or evaluating them. In fact, we've gone Google Apps internally here at CBS Interactive for email and calendar. We still use Microsoft Office, but in my usage I'm also doing a good bit of Google Docs too. Once you use Google for corporate email and calendar you find yourself using a bevy of features riding shotgun. For now these features include chat and docs. However, it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that business users will also make a few calls from Gmail.
So what does this have to do with Skype? Skype has made a lot of inroads in the enterprise. Skype is hooking up with corporate networks and connecting with the likes of ShoreTel. However, Google could dent that Skype encroachment.
The risk to Skype becomes really clear in the VOIP provider's IPO filing. Skype plans on growing its business footprint. In fact, the enterprise may be Skype's meal-ticket. Here's the key passage from Skype's filing:
We believe the business communications market represents a large opportunity for Skype. Approximately 37% of over 40,000 of our connected users surveyed in the first quarter of 2010 told us that they use our product platform occasionally or often for business-related purposes. We believe there is a significant opportunity to better serve the communications needs of the small and medium enterprise segment, as well as larger enterprise customers, by focusing on user needs in this market and developing additional products specifically tailored to business users. We plan to address this opportunity through the following initiatives:
- Introduce new business-focused products. We have released two products to better serve and grow revenue in the enterprise market: Skype Manager, which allows businesses to create Skype accounts, purchase our paid products and manage and pay for the use of Skype products by their employees, and Skype Connect, which allows businesses to connect their private telephone branch exchange (PBX) over the Internet to Skype’s peer-to-peer user network to achieve low-cost calling. Skype Connect already has over 2,400 active global customers, and has already been certified by Avaya, Cisco, SIPfoundry and ShoreTel, among others, as interoperable with their products.
- Build a new sales force, support team and management tools. We are investing to develop our business features and functionality and are exploring options such as adding more robust technical support, video and data conferencing, and collaboration solutions. We are also growing our business sales team to be able to focus on selling these products in the business market.
Google's Gmail calling feature could thwart some of that early Skype success. For now, Skype has the key partnerships to be an enterprise player. But Google could be a big risk to Skype's enterprise ambitions---especially as more companies adopt Google Apps.