Google Voice was launched on 2007 after Google acquired GrandCentral, a telephone management startup that sought to offer many of the features of Google Voice, but lacked Google’s large platform. GrandCentral’s idea was simple: give people the ability to disconnect having a phone number from having a phone, but the idea would have been little more than a novelty if it had remained separate from a multi-media powerhouse like Google.
When you think about it, you realize that phone numbers have traditionally been linked to a number of factors, such as the device being used or the location where phone service is initiated. This has served as a positive identification and a way of branding phone numbers as part of a local area, but has also made switching phone numbers a reality as one changes geographic area. Google Voice offers users the ability to disconnect their phone number from a service provider or location, and to assign a single phone number that can be forwarded to cellular or landlines.
Rather than a telephone service, Google Voice is a telephony service. A telephony service not only provides the ability to make and receive calls, but also provides related services. In other words, it is related to phones, but goes beyond providing mere access to telephone service. Google Voice service begins with the provision of a television number to the user, but this phone number is only the start of its services. Customers using Google Voice have access to call forwarding, call blocking, call transcription, conference calling, voicemail, voice messaging, text messaging, and basic phone calls. Customers can use their own devices to receive and place phone calls from Google Voice numbers. They can also use the portal to place calls on their internet enabled device, which makes Google Voice similar to VOIP service providers.
Google Voice allows the user to choose a U.S. telephone number from a variety of different area codes that are associated with different regions of the U.S. The user is not restricted to the area code that matches his physical location, but only a limited number of area codes have Google Voice numbers. The user gets the number for free, as part of his Google account, and, with few exceptions calls to and from this number are free.
The service is different from other internet phones or VOIP services. Rather than using a computer to place and receive calls, the user configures an account through the settings in Google Voice and uses that to forward calls made to the Google Voice number to a device, usually a mobile or landline phone. In fact, calls can be forwarded to multiple phones, decreasing the likelihood that the user will miss a call that was placed to the Google Voice number.
In addition, users can opt to use their associated devices to place a call using the Google Voice number. This can be done through one of the associated devices, through a mobile app, or from the account portal.
Perhaps one of the most innovative uses of the Google Voice service is to provide multiple different phone numbers for the same device. When a call is forwarded from a Google Voice number, the Google Voice number is indicated in the caller ID, so that the phone can be answered appropriately. Therefore, if a Google Voice personal number is forwarded to a work phone number, the caller can answer like she or she is receiving a personal call. More importantly, if a Google Voice business number is forwarded to a personal phone, the caller can answer any calls on that number with a business greeting. It allows for the separation of business and personal contact information without the costs normally associated with operating multiple telephone lines and purchasing multiple devices.
Another Google Voice feature that users love is the ability to “park” numbers at your Google Voice account. If you have a cell number that you have used for a while, but want to temporarily discontinue cell service, Google will let you park that number at your Google Voice account until you want to activate it. There is a fee for parking numbers, but the fee is lower than a single month’s payment for a mobile phone account.
Of course, for most users the best part of Google Voice is its price. The use of Google Voice, is, for the most part free. Calls made from the United States or Canada to locations in the United States or Canada are free. Calls made to the United States or Canada from other locations may have a nominal $.01/per minute fee. International calls are subject to international billing rates. While the use of Google Voice to place the call can transfer the cost of the call to the Google Voice account, using Google Voice on an associated device will use that device’s minutes, if applicable.
While there are some great benefits to using Google Voice, the service does have some drawbacks. None of them are substantial enough to prevent a user from accessing and enjoying the service, but they should be understood by any new user. The most important drawback is that a user cannot use Google Voice to contact 911, even when placing calls directly from the account portal. Another factor that could limit Google Voice’s utility for some users is that Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) is only partially supported by Google Voice and requires users to use Google Hangouts; however, for those using Google Hangouts, most carriers support MMS. There have also been some consistent disagreements between Google and Apple. Apple was reluctant to allow a Google Voice application that would work with its iPhone users and has consistently been resistant to Google technology on Apple devices. This could mean that Apple product users will not be able to be early adopters of any new Google Voice technologies. For many users, the biggest drawback may be the lack of direct phone support for Google Voice.