Earlier this year, Google added yet another weapon to their arsenal of free Internet tools. This time, they’re providing us with a way to better communicate with people that extends beyond our notebook, desktop, or even our iPhone. Called Google Voice, it ties together *all* of the phones you use in your life (home, office, cell) as well as your email. It’s a little difficult to initially grasp, but extremely easy to use. Trust me, you’ll want to stick through to the end on this post.
First, Google Voice (which is primarily a free service) provides you with a new phone number. It’s a real, legitimate PSTN (public switched telephone network) number, just like those provided by your local phone company. It does not provide the wire, though, just the number. That means that in order to use Google Voice, you’ll need to have at least one traditional phone. You can even associate Google Voice with an existing phone number. But my preference is to get another number.
You can search among the available area codes and calling prefixes for a specific “vanity” number. It’s also possible to associate Google Voice with an existing phone number, though you’ll lose some features if you chose this option.
Speaking of features… just what can Google Voice do for you? It might be easiest to use an example:
Let’s say that over the holidays, I’ll be out of the office, but want to remain reachable to certain business associates. Yet, I’m not quite sure where I’ll be at any time. It’s unlikely that I’d want to provide my home phone, cell phone, friend’s phone, in-laws’ phone, etc, to each of my key business contacts. Instead, I can have my home and cell phone ring, and add other phones as necessary. When the call comes in, I’ll get a call at all of those numbers. Google Voice will announce the incoming call and allow me (or whoever answers) to accept it or not. With one call, my contacts can quickly find me… if I’m available.
What if I’m not available? Then the call will be sent to voice mail. And I’ll receive notification (via email or by using an icon in my computer OS’s system tray) of the message. Just recently, Google expanded this notification to include automatic voice transcription. So when you leave me a message, I can read it in my email client! It’s automated, and it’s not perfect, but it’s pretty darn good, and certainly can at least give you an immediate sense of the message.
Google Voice has even allowed me to drop my long distance service at home. For years, we’ve paid about $20 per month for an unlimited calling plan, though we may only use 1-5 hours each month. Now, I can pick up my home phone, dial my new Google Voice number and a passcode, and make unlimited free calls to the U.S. or Canada. Other international calls, which do have associated costs, are still bargains. For example, calls to Mexican land lines range from $0.02 to $0.08 per minute, while Thailand runs $0.03 per minute, and France is just $0.02 per minute. Calls to cell phones, which are free nationwide, tend to run $0.15-$0.18 per minute internationally.
There are plenty of other features. I’ve just tried to highlight a couple to give you a sense of the power of Google Voice. One drawback: it is currently available by invitation only. But you can request an invitation online at http://www.google.com/voice, and I hear the lead time to receive an invitation is down to a couple of weeks – or even less. I’ve received a couple of invitations that I can personally hand out, so if you’re a Callis & Associates client and would like a free Google Voice invitation, just reply to this post. I’ll provide the invite to the first client to request one!