VoIP Makes Sprint Most Innovative US Cell Carrier

One argument competitive market and consumer advocates have stressed in opposing AT&T’s $39-billion bid to purchase T-Mobile in the United States is that the resulting GSM monopoly would stifle innovation in the cellular carrier industry.

It turns out that the deal, which is still awaiting regulatory approval, may have been a key factor in one of the more innovative mobile service features introduced in several years. Ironically (or some would say understandably) neither AT&T nor T-Mobile are behind the innovation.

This week, Sprint (the nation’s third largest cellular carrier behind AT&T and Verizon) fully integrated its offering with Google Voice, allowing Sprint customers to seamlessly combine the two services.

The Google Voice service integration was announced by Sprint in March, the day after AT&T’s proposal to merge T-Mobile was announced. Some analysts believe Sprint’s bold move, which may land the company new customers but will result in lower international call revenues, was prompted by the merger.

New customer acquisition has been the main focus of Sprint’s revenue strategy. Today, the company announced it added 1.1 million new customers this year.

Sprint customers who sign up for the free Google Voice service, now have the ability to use a single number for both services (either the Sprint number or the Google Voice number replace the other), allowing calls to a number to ring on both services. In addition, all calls and text messages sent through either service will come from the same phone number.

International calls made on a customer’s Sprint mobile phone will actually go through Google Voice service, provided the customer has deposited funds into his or her Google voice account. Google Voice international calls are among the cheapest in the industry, as little as $0.01/minute to many locations.

Sprint customers can also use Google Voice’s feature-packed voice mail features, including voice-to-text transcriptions, personalized voicemail greetings and message checking via email, web or phone.

Sprint customers who install Obihai Technology‘s OBi100 ($44) or Obi110 ($50) analog telephone adaptor and set it up to work with Google Voice, can receive phone calls to the Sprint account on any analog telephone connected to the device.

The Sprint, Google Voice and Obihai package virtually eliminates the need for Sprint’s much-maligned AIRAVE access point, designed to extend service into homes or offices with no cell coverage.