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Wait, so why do we need phones again?

Phone service is obsolete, and I'm tired of carriers holding me back. I want Google to be my phone company.

January 19, 2013 07:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Facebook this week unveiled voice calling through its iPhone Messenger app.

The reaction to this news was the sound of crickets.

Announcing an app that lets you talk over the Internet is like opening a coffee shop in Seattle, a casino in Vegas or a Famous Original Ray's Pizza in New York City: Nice, but it's something we already have too much of already.

In fact, the sole benefit of Facebook's new talk feature is that if I'm already using the Messenger app, and want to make a call, I can save the three seconds it might take me to open another app.

Not exactly a communications revolution.

Why phones service is obsolete

I haven't used a mobile or landline phone service since July.

I've talked to people using my iPhone (and also my laptop), but I've done it using Google Voice, Google+, Google Talk and Skype over Wi-Fi.

I've been giving out my Google Voice number for years. People call me. I answer the phone. We have a conversation. We hang up. No big deal.

Most of the people who call me, and whom I call, don't know I'm using the Internet, rather than the phone system, to converse. More importantly, they don't care.

They also often don't know I'm in Africa.

I'm old enough to remember when a long distance call was a big deal. ("Hurry up and pick up the phone! It's long distance!")

It was a big deal because a long distance call used to cost a lot. Then it got cheap. And now it's free. I don't pay a penny for Google Voice, and make calls from Europe and Africa to the U.S. all the time.

Yet most of us still use phone service with our mobile phones or even -- gasp! -- landline phones. The reason is not that we need phone service. The reason is that the companies that provide phone service need the money.

How we got here

It's simple. First we got the landline telephone. Then we got mobile phones. Then we got Internet-connected PCs. Then Internet connectivity was added to mobile phones. Then we got applications and apps that let us make calls over our Internet connections.

Now we don't need phone service anymore.

I know that Internet-based, or voice-over-IP (VoIP), service has a longer voice delay and is in that way worse than your typical mobile phone call. And, for that matter, landline phone service offers higher quality than a mobile call. (And records are higher quality than MP3s. And letters are higher quality than email. Yet we routinely choose lower quality in some respects in order to have more features and lower cost.)

The truth is that Internet-based phone calls are good enough. There's a delay, but the sound quality can be superior. More to the point, voice communication itself has been sidelined for most communication. Young people are gravitating to IM or social network messaging. Business people and others are embracing video conversations. All kinds of apps are providing innovative voice communications that aren't phone calls, exactly.

These "intercom," "push-to-talk" or "walkie-talkie" apps are cheap or free, and so common as to be a banality.

For phone conversations, we can use Google Voice, Google Talk, FaceTime, Skype or any number of similar VoIP apps.



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