Google’s Forgotten Acquisition: The GrandCentral Wild Card


As the first Android enabled handset, the T-Mobile G1 has got a fairly short list of complaints – among them is the lack of VoIP support. Wired heavily criticized this absence (as did many tech sources) in a pair of articles that paraphrased T-Mobile Chief Technology Officer Cole Brodman, saying ” he had “worked with Google” to make sure Android couldn’t run VOIP.

But could Google be holding a wildcard? In July of 2007, Google made an acquisition that has been all but forgotten, purchasing Grand Central Communications and announcing the move on Official Google Mobile Blog.

Google explains: “GrandCentral is an innovative service that lets users integrate all of their existing phone numbers and voice mailboxes into one account, which can be accessed from the web.” Take a look at this demo from 2006, before they were purchased by Google:

I try not to use bad language but… holy crap. This is pretty revolutionary stuff. This system, demonstrated in 2006, puts Verizon’s Visual Voicemail to SHAME and introduces a whole host of features previously impossible with mobile phones. But it goes beyond mobile phones.

Google’s OpenID web initiative has been documented to a much larger extent, hoping to offer users a single login and internet identity across all sites on the web. On the surface, GrandCentral appears to be the mobile version of this concept… “One Number… For Life”…  but in reality it could mean a WHOLE lot more.

Imagine GrandCentral running as an Android Application that was tied to a web component which you could also view via your mobile phone. And while we’re at it, lets take a look at what Google’s Help Doc says about GrandCentral’s VoIP capabilities:

GrandCentral isn’t just another VoIP call service. We’ve tapped into VoIP technology to build our service, but GrandCentral works with cell phones, desk phones, VoIP lines, and everything in between. There’s nothing to download, upload, or install, and you don’t have to make or take calls using a computer.

Now we’re talking. If T-Mobile has somehow “locked down” and completely disabled VoIP Apps on the T-Mobile G1 then GrandCentral might be the only hope. And therein is the trick: GrandCentral isn’t really a VoIP application in itself, afterall, it works with landlines and other cell phones as well.

So we’ve got ALL these different phone numbers, profiles and locations where we use different phones and data services in different places and GrandCentral allows us to consolidate, making the consumer’s experience incredibly more convenient.

WAIT A MINUTE. Does this not seem to jive almost PERFECTLY with the recent patent application that Google filed for “Flexible Communication Systems and Models”? One quick look at the diagram they included really shows the similarity in their vision/purpose:

See allllll the different locations where people could be using different phones in different manners? Google could simultaneously help you consolidate them to ONE system that automatically uses your preferred settings for connecting to calls. Afterall, thats a feature thats built into GrandCentral already… this patent would simply further the capabilities.

Folks around the web have been claiming this patent application suggests that Google wants to turn wireless and broadband services into an auction marketplace similar to its adwords/adsense advertising system. At first, this seemed like a long shot. But when viewed in context with GrandCentral, it seems much more possibly. Purchasing and setting up your wireless contract preferences with different phones/locations/profiles would simply be another set of options in the GrandCentral interface.

Keep in mind that the video you viewed was from 2006! Things have come a long, LONG way since then. I mean, wasn’t the RAZR still cool in 2006? HA! GrandCentral has probably progressed through many iterations and I would guess, is ready to accomplish so much more and probably within the Android framework.

Combine that with the new Clearwire/WiMax 4G network that Google has a financial stake in and there could be some very big things to come. Sprint/Nextel is launching the network October 8th in Baltimore – we’re located in Baltimore so we’re hoping the press conference and event will provide further clues. Its all up in the air and there are a ridiculous amount of contingencies, but the pieces of the puzzle certainly exist.

But what about GrandCentral being used in the short-term as an Android Application? Could it happen? We know that Google’s products and services often spend a lot of time in Beta-ville, so what is in the cards for GrandCentral?

The financial terms of the GrandCentral acquisition were never released, but we know that Google didn’t just up and purchase the company for the fun of it. Google MUST have some types of hopes, plans, strategies, ideas, integrations, whatEVER planned for GrandCentral.

So what do you think? Where and when will GrandCentral fit into the picture, if at all?

(Thanks Phil)

Rob Jackson
I'm an Android and Tech lover, but first and foremost I consider myself a creative thinker and entrepreneurial spirit with a passion for ideas of all sizes. I'm a sports lover who cheers for the Orange (College), Ravens (NFL), (Orioles), and Yankees (long story). I live in Baltimore and wear it on my sleeve, with an Under Armour logo. I also love traveling... where do you want to go?

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  1. I hear you on this one! There has to be some sort of GrandCentral wildcard to be played. If not right away, at some point in the near future, Google will pull this one out of their hat. I, for one, can’t wait to see it happen. GrandCentral is way too powerful of a tool to not be used with Android. There’s already a mobile edition of GrandCentral available for any mobile phone, but something customized for Android will likely be available soon.

    I’ve been a GrandCentral user for the past year and it’s been fantastic. In the last week or so, the reliability of this service has been less than perfect – I may chalk this one up to some Google “tweaking” behind the scenes…. ?

  2. Check out YouMail. It is very similar, free, and works with all cell phones. http://www.youmail.com. It is a visual voicemail service that sends you SMS + web access + automatic transcripts of messages (usually good enough to make out what the person wants). It doesn’t offer the grand central unification, but offers a great intermediate step to it (since T-mobile’s voice mail is awful).

  3. Interesting concept, Grand Central that is, I have been involved in ENUM – PSTN to DNS for InternetNZ ( simple description), WIKIPEDIA has a good one, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telephone_Number_Mapping, which aims for that one number concept. The USA is behind on it, the Asians are showing a lot of interest, when combined with a Personal User Agent (PUA). which is what Grand Central indicates, you have a very powerful environment. There have been quite a few attempts at this, but ENUM is a global standard and has some value. I am intrigued with the Patent application, as the concepts and technology has been tested elsewhere – eg New Zealand http://www.geekzone.co.nz/content.asp?contentid=4938

    There was also a Product running which offered one number and then delivered to your device of choice – pre VOIP, they went bust trying to deal with the phone companies :)

    In short it mean the customer owns their number and picks the carrier, even better than number portability and it could be truly global – maybe but big profits and phones mmmmmmmm

    Great BLOG, really enjoy it and keen as hell to get an Android based handset.

  4. I’ve been really torn the last two days after taking a close look at the T-Mobile coverage in my area (it sucks outside of our small city). One of the things I thought would save me was the Wifi with VoIP, along with GrandCentral which can forward to VoIP. If I can’t have VoIP, there is another strike against T-Mobile. Darn it! I want Android but I want good service too!

  5. “Where and when will GrandCentral fit into the picture, if at all?”

    As soon as it supports text messaging, MMS, etc.. Right now most people will not want to give out their GC number because you can’t send text messages to it.

  6. Great story! :)

    Regarding SMS – GrandCentral officially announced back in April of 2007 (!) that SMS support IS coming. link: http://blog.grandcentral.com/?p=109#comment-7414

    Let’s hope for GC release once Android is launched

  7. Wonder how that affects the G1 in other countrys, specially here in Germany. I am pretty sure that it would be against the Law if Tmobile or Google would remove the ability to use VoIP here.

  8. I was fortunate enough to get a grand central number before they were bought out, and subsequently locked down. I love it, it’s like pushing your phone. I can give out one number and know that no matter if I am at home work or on vacation can still receive my phone numbers. It is also great to get my voicemail over email.

  9. wait and see within 6 months of launch we’ll have more mobile applications than what we have today

  10. This must have something with why I can’t create a Label called ‘voicemail’ in Gmail — I get an error that it’s a ‘reserved label name’ … hmmmmm :)

  11. I’ve been using GrandCentral for a while now. I was also one of the lucky ones that got an account before the company was acquired by Google. I used it for a while and loved it.. but began having problems when people tried to send text messages to me at my GrandCentral number. I learned that text messages hit a dead end when sent to a GrandCentral number. I hope this is one of the things that Google will fix when they release whatever new features they must have been working on all this time.

    Great post by the way…

  12. Great post!

    I’ve been using GrandCentral for a year or so and I totally agree with you. Check out this post I just wrote on GrandCentral: http://www.nooozeguy.com/google-grand-central/. I’d love to hear feedback from your readers.


  13. Another phone company to keep your eye on is Ribbit — especially if you are developer. They claim to be silicon valley’s first phone company.


    Ribbit was recently acquired by BT.

    Phil Seyer

  14. I’ve continued to use GC for over a year – got my number after it was inside Google – one of the lucky few who got a number before they shut out new users.

    Not sure if you have noticed – something is afoot – the legal guys have been talking to the GC developers telling them that they cannot make Click-to-call free. In the early days, we had to ‘purchase’ outbound calling credits for zero $. Then it went away. A few days back, I was presented with a dialog asking to get more free credits with a click along with an almost apologetic note explaining.

    This is the first sign of life I have observed on the GC page in ages!

  15. I use Grandcentral for my home number. I would like to use it as my only number. Here are my top ten requests from Google for Grandcentral.


  16. GrandCentral was reportedly acquired for $45 million. Take a look in blog land for the exact change amount. Big, big acquisition.

  17. So what happened?

    I have had a GC beta account for a year.. it works well. No complaints only praise… but there has been zero from them on any progress or lack thereof.

    It looks like they have frozen access to new numbers and there has not been any activity on their blog since April 2008.

    Are they dead or are they quietly planning the overthrow of the known universe?

  18. Where have we seen this before…

    Except Google’s just cutting to the chase:

    Embrace, extinguish.

  19. The sleeping giant has awoken. Get ready for Google Voice. No longer a wild card. IMO

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