David Bau has the post on the Google Blog about Google Talk, the new instant messaging and voice-over-IP application from Google.
This is being widely covered by many people who seem to use IM and VoIP much more than I do. Don't miss the detailed comments and reviews from Joe Beda, Nathan Weinberg, Danny Sullivan, John Battelle, Nat Torkington, John Markoff, and Matt Marshall.
Rather than duplicate their fine work, I'm going to depart from analysis and into wild and irresponsible speculation. Put on your galoshes and try not to get any on you.
There's been rumors that Google is thinking about offering free WiFi nationwide in the US. Most of the discussion on this has focused on the impact on broadband ISP providers. But what about cell phones?
I'm amazed that people put up with the poor quality of cell phone connections. I find it nearly impossible to carry on a long conversation cell phone to cell phone because at least one of the participants usually has a weak connection. Even cell phone to land line conversations can be difficult. This is aggravated by the fact that I often want to call from inside my house, a restaurant, or a cafe, areas where cell phone coverage is usually weakest.
So, okay, what if I had a phone that works over WiFi? I have WiFi in my house and many businesses I frequent have WiFi. There are some WiFi phones starting to be available. That might fix some of the coverage problems indoors.
But wait, what if there was city-wide WiFi coverage? Or WiFi coverage equivalent to cell phone networks (covering cities and major highways)? Huh, my WiFi phone would work everywhere.
So, Google just launched Google Talk, a VoIP application. Google is rumored to be thinking about a nationwide free WiFi network. Combined these two, add a WiFi phone to the mix, and am I about to get free mobile calling nationwide?
Okay, coming back to reality, probably not. No business model, expensive, need infrastructure, need bandwidth. Lots of problems. But it would be glorious, wouldn't it?
Update: MIT Tech Review reports a startup called Fon is trying to launch a product with exactly this model, ubiquitous VoIP over WiFi as an alternative to cellular service.
Update: Eleven months later, the NYT writes about the growth of WiFi phones and the threat to cellular networks.
Update: Twelve months later, Katie Fehrenbacher at Gigom tests using the Google WiFi in Mountain View for making calls and says, "If you find a spot where the signal is pretty strong, the calls can be as good as cellular calls. It might be just me, but the prospect of cheap or free phone calls over a free network, is something to get excited about."