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Gmail voice? Google buys Grand Central Communications

grand centralAfter a month of rumors, it was officially confirmed Monday that Google is acquiring consumer telephony/internet integration company Grand Central Communications.  Official terms have not been disclosed but widespread speculation is that the price was surprisingly high; above $50m.  That’s hard to believe, improbable seeming but not impossible.  Reports are the  two year old company had raised approximately $4m in venture funding from investors including Micro Ventures.

There was no explicit announcement where the Grand Central service will fit into Google’s product offerings but its likely it will be integrated  into Google’s communications platform/chat client Google Talk.  Similar occurred when, Grand Central’s founder’s prior company, Voice over Internet firm Dialpad was acquired by Yahoo in 2005 and rolled into Yahoo Messenger.

Grand Central’s core technology, which is still in an invitation only Beta (and not commercial) stage, is something of a smart call router.  There service provides feature-laden tools to allow customers to manage their multiple phone numbers from home to office to cellular.

To use the services, Grand Central customers activate a single “phone” number on Grand Central website.  That number becomes their primary line.  Smart call forwarding allows all calls to that number to be routed to any of the user’s phones (home, cellular, work) as the customer chooses.  The management is similar, in concept, to having an email program distribute messages with different words in the subject to specific folders.

Also part of the Grand Central service, a single smart voicemail (associated with the Grand Central phone number) allows the customer to listen in and monitor voicemails as they are being recorded (like monitoring an incoming call on a home answering machine).

A visual organization feature for the voicemail, which can be viewed through the Internet on either a computer or mobile phone, allows customers to see a list of who’s called (rather than having to audibly move through a list).  

As much as the features provided by Grand Central do provide a certain convenience and novelty factor, it’s hard to see them yielding the kind of value proposition they’d need to justify being worth upwards of $50m (if that speculation is accurate) but owning Grand Central does potentially give  Google a means to integrate a joint mailbox for both voicemail and email. 

Speaking on the official Google Blog, a company spokesman said of the deal “We think Grand Central’s technology fits well into Google’s efforts to provide services that enhance the collaborative exchange of information between our users.”


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