Who needs a home phone, when you can just ask your digital assistant to place a call for you, for free? That’s the attraction of a new software upgrade just rolled out to Google Home users in the UK – a European first, and surely an early warning sign for European carriers of the value-added communications challenge of digital home speakers to come.
From this week, the users of Google’s flagship digital home speaker product will now be able to ask their Google Assistant to call any normal-rate fixed or mobile UK number, by voice command, and entirely free of charge. What’s more, Google Home can search for and call UK businesses by name, all with natural voice speaker recognition.
‘Speaker recognition’, you ask?
This is the clever bit. Google Home’s artificially intelligent assistant is able to recognize the user from his or her voice pattern, and will use this context to find friends and other contacts from the user’s personal Google Contacts phone list.
So, for example, when one user instructs Google to ‘call Mum’, the Assistant will know exactly which ‘Mum’ is meant, because it will recognise the speaker making the request. Likewise, the Google Home product will be able to not only redial last-called numbers, but also recognised those last-placed by individual users within a household.
That all makes the standard home phone look a little dumb in comparison. Problematically, few carriers in the world – let alone European carriers – currently have a good answer to that.
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To be clear, Google Home can only place outgoing calls today.
The calls will display with the caller’s individual mobile phone, and returning calls will therefore be placed back to the user’s mobile phone. In other words, Google Home can’t handle incoming calls. But then, given its ability to recognize individual users at this level, it’s questionable whether it will ever need to.
For now, free outbound calling is only available to Google Home’s UK users. But Google’s ambitions are always global; it’s inevitable that this upgrade will be rolled out to further European markets in the coming months. Google Home has already been launched in Germany and France, as well as further afield in Japan and Australia.
Telephony, of course, is a core component of carriers’ businesses, and still a key feature of carrier fixed service portfolios. For European carriers looking to the converged services household to shore up their future services revenues, the broader competitive challenge is clear.