Take control of your mobile number with Google Voice

In the U.S., Google Voice offers you more control of your phone experience.

Google Voice
When you sign up for a free Google Voice account, Google gives you a free phone number. Incoming calls can simultaneously ring on up to six phones linked to your account. Outbound calls can be placed using the Google Voice Android or iOS app, or from Google Voice on the web. Unfortunately, Google Voice remains a U.S. only service as of January 2014.

Schedule, screen, and transcribe calls

You can schedule, screen, and transcribe calls with Google Voice.

  • Schedule which of your phones rings when someone calls your Google Voice number: Ring the office line on weekdays, or ring your cellphone in the evening. (Gear > settings > edit button under selected phone line > show advanced settings > ring schedule)
  • Screen incoming callers, so that calls from people in your Google Contacts or Google+ Circles get through while other callers must identify themselves. (Gear > settings > groups & circles > edit various call settings.)
  • If you miss a call, Google Voice can attempt to transcribe the message. Depending on the caller and message, you may not have to listen to voicemail at all: you can simply read it. In my experience, transcriptions vary from hilariously wrong to highly accurate. (Gear > settings > voicemail & texts > voicemail transcripts.)


Google Voice lets you schedule which phones ring, as well as screen and transcribe calls
 (Credit: Google)

Port your number to Google Voice

You can port your existing cell number to Google Voice, for a one-time fee of $20. Your existing cell number becomes a Google Voice number, with your existing cell service automatically being cancelled. (To continue to get cell coverage, you'll need to get a new number and/or provider.)

Porting may make sense for anyone dealing with multiple devices or carriers. For example, a realtor carrying both a work and personal phone might port one number to Google Voice, then add the other to the ring group. No need to tote around two devices anymore and screening settings help filter business calls during personal time.

Porting also may help people deal with cell coverage gaps. For example, if you live or work in an area with a weak cell signal, then Google Voice porting allows you to enable multi-ring to a landline, or to answer calls over an internet connection.

Porting Process

I recently ported my existing cell number, which I've had for years, to Google Voice. The process took less than 30 hours.

Since I had an existing Google Voice number, I logged in to my account settings, then selected "Change / Port" in the Phones tab. Next, I entered my existing number, which Google verified as eligible to be ported. I then reviewed and checked off six key items to verify that I understood the cost, timeline, risks and terms.


Port an existing U.S. cell number to Google Voice for a one-time fee of $20
 (Credit: Google)

Google called my cellphone, into which I typed a two-digit code displayed on my computer screen, to verify control of the phone. Finally, I confirmed my account information and paid the $20 fee with a card linked to my Google Wallet. Then I waited.


Porting cancels your existing cell service
 (Credit: Google)

Slightly less than 24-hours later, I received an email confirming that porting was complete. My cell service stopped working within a couple of hours, as expected.

I went to my cell provider to activate my Android phone. A few minutes later, I had a new SIM chip and number with active service.

Next, I logged in to Google Voice on the web. I chose "Add another phone". I entered the new number, then again verified the number with a two-digit code. Now, any calls to my old cell phone number would ring on my new mobile line. Additionally, in the "Calls" tab of the Google Voice settings area, I selected "Called ID (incoming)" to display the caller's number.

I opened the Google Voice app on my Android phone and pressed the menu button to open Settings, then tapped "Making Calls". I chose to "Use Google Voice to make all calls". When I dial a number on my phone, the call will be routed through my Google Voice account. Recipients will see my Google Voice number, instead of my actual phone number.


On Android, choose Google Voice as the default dialer
 (Credit: Google)

Two cautions

Android users will have a more integrated experience using Google Voice than iPhone users. iPhone users must open the Google Voice app to place calls. Android users may change the default dialer to Google Voice, then dial normally. Incoming calls work as normal on both platforms.

If you send photos or video via text, Google Voice isn't for you. Google Voice supports SMS, but not MMS, as of January 2014. This feature may arrive as part of a future Hangouts integration. Currently, you can receive Google Voice calls in Hangouts. I'd expect further integration in the future.

The bottom line

For years, smart tech folks and businesspeople have known the benefit of owning a domain name. Owning your own domain gives you control over your web presence: you can change your web host or email provider anytime. Google Voice offers similar control of your phone experience: you can change your phone carrier, where your phones ring, or customize call screening anytime. For me, that's control worth having.


Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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