There’s an app for that. And it may soon replace the idea of Baby Bells and Verizon as utility companies. If it hadn’t already via Skype, telephony is now well on its way to becoming an application rather than a network, thanks to Google “Voice Chat”.

As @Pogue outlines, the new Google Voice Chat feature is aimed squarely at carriers and is one of many VoIP salvos across the bow of traditional telephony. With Internet-based apps such as Skype and Vonage, data lines were already threatening to replace traditional phone lines. Google Chat ups the ante.

Broadband Internet is the new transport rather than the switched telephony network of the industrial era. In the evolving VoIP landscape, a “land line” becomes any PC with an Internet connection. But with Google Voice Chat – not to be confused with Google Voice – there is no Vonage box to install. Calls are just a click away. It is one-half of the “Google Voice and Video Chat” team; Voice runs as a plug-in rather than requiring the standalone client. And say goodbye to monthly service fees also – Google calls to any US phone are free. MagicJack is cheap – but Google is cheaper.

What is needed to complete the picture? Voice Chat is out-dial only. One needs to be able to receive calls before we can completely ditch telephone lines. The standard SIP protocol can do this, and its nothing new to Skype with their SkypeIn service. Perhaps Google Voice, the telephone routing service and other piece of the puzzle with a conflicting name, will be able to play a part? This is all nothing new, but with the power of Google behind it, it may hasten the evolution.

Voice Chat is PC/Mac only at the moment. But once available on mobile platforms, a 3G cellphone with a $30 data-only plan and loaded with Google Voice Chat could be an able substitute for a $69 mobile anything-plan. Heck, you can do that already via Skype if you extended your comfort zone beyond just Skype-to-Skype calls. And for an even cheaper mobile solution, you could drop the 3G contract and go WiFi only!

The end game? Any still-independent POTS carriers will be marginalized by network providers, while cell carriers – which provide both voice & data – will evolve into being data only. And providers like Google just increased their user base. In the true spirit of net neutrality, voice is just another packet on its way to a destination. The “Service Provider” industry just got a bit bigger.

(Hmmm… If phone lines are subsumed by data, it seems that SMS will have to shed its carrier underpinnings and merge with Internet-based Instant Messaging protocols?)

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