12:01 am ET
Oct 1, 2014
Ex-Googlers Try to Plug a Gap in Google’s Business Suite
Craig Walker, the creator of Google Voice, who runs business phone startup Switch Communications. Moses Sison/Switch Communications
When Google sells services to businesses, it offers email, word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software, file storage and video conferencing. But the Internet giant doesn’t have a business phone service. A group of former Googlers aims to fill that gap.
Switch Communications, run by Craig Walker, the creator of Google Voice, launched a new Internet-based phone service for companies on Tuesday. Switch.co is run on remote computer servers, so companies don’t have to buy and maintain their own hardware to operate it. It’s also designed to work with companies’ existing office phones and the mobile devices that employees increasingly bring to work.
Switch is entering a large, competitive market is based on the technology known as voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, that lets people send voice calls through a broadband Internet connection rather than a traditional phone line. Telecom research firm Infonetics expects revenue from VoIP services to reach $88 billion in 2018, up from $68 billion in 2013.
There are over a 100 VoIP providers in North America alone, including RingCentral , Ooma, 8×8, and large cable and telecom companies such as Comcast and Verizon . “It is a very crowded market,” Infonetics analyst Diane Myers says.
RingCentral, a Switch rival, went public just over a year ago, selling shares at $13 each. The stock closed at $12.71 on Tuesday.
Switch hopes to compete by integrating its new phone service tightly with Google’s existing suite of business software and applications, known as Google Apps for Work. The startup is targeting businesses that already use the suite. New users sign up with their existing Google account credentials. During calls, they can see related information from recent Gmail messages, shared Google documents, and upcoming Google Calendar invites.
“Google Apps has a growing customer base without a phone system to add to their suite of productivity tools,” Walker said. “Switch.co integrates seamlessly with Google Apps to complete the package.”
Switch, formerly known as Firespotter Labs, is packed with former Google employees including Brian Peterson, John Rector and Jeanne DeWitt. Walker spent about three years at the search company overseeing the Google Voice service, which lets users tie several phones to a single number.
Switch is getting support from Google in other ways. The Switch.co service runs on Google’s cloud computing platform and the start-up is partly backed by Google Ventures, the search company’s venture capital arm.
DeWitt, who helped oversee Google business software sales to small and medium-sized businesses, said Switch.co is already being pulled into sales meetings with authorized re-sellers of Google Apps software packages.
“Google’s problem is that it has no answer to the business phone question. Companies want to buy everything at once and Switch fills the gap,” DeWitt said.
An early version of Switch.co is being tested by a handful of businesses that use Google Apps extensively, including the Weather Channel, an online weather information provider with about 1,500 employees.
Nicholas Gardner, senior director of internal systems at the Weather Channel, said he is considering using Switch.co to replace the company’s existing, traditional phone system, which is provided by Cisco Systems .
The Cisco service requires the Weather Channel to buy and maintain its own rack of computer servers and related software, which needs to be replaced about every three years. Replacing it with Switch.co would avoid this, potentially cutting the cost of the company’s phone system by up to 70%, Gardner said.
If tests go well, Gardner said he will likely develop a plan to slowly roll out Switch.co across the company in 2015.
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