More interesting news from Google – they have just announced Google Voice, a new service that will give you a new US phone number from Google with a slew of services to go along with it. The basic premise of Google Voice is that you will have one number for all your phones, for life. When this number is called, it can ring all of the phones that you have (home, work, cell) and also handle voice mail. As these numbers change, your Google Voice number will remain the same.
Now, most expats are already using voice-over-ip (VOIP) services like Vonage or Skype, so why would you need this service? While it’s true that this is not a VOIP service (yet) and you will still need an existing phone to place and receive calls, Google is offering a tremendous number of services that most other VOIP don’t provide – and they’re doing it for free. Some of these services include:
- Call US numbers for free and cheap international calling (might be cheaper than using another VOIP service)
- Voicemail transcripts – receive your voicemail as email or text messages automatically converted from voice to text (Vonage charges $.25 per message for this)
- Call screening – announce and screen callers
- Listen in – listen before taking a call
- Block calls
- Taking calls – answer on any of your phones (No word on whether it will support international numbers or what the cost would be.)
- Phone routing – phones ring based on who calls
- Forwarding phones – add phones and decide which ring
- Listen to voicemail – check online or from your phone
- Notifications – receive voicemails via email or SMS
- Personalize greetings – vary greetings by caller
- Conference calling
- Call record – record calls and store them online
- Call switch – switch phones during a call
- SMS – send, receive, and store SMS
- And more… (Visit the Google Voice features page for the rest and to view short videos on these services)
The free SMS services are especially interesting since many expats are unable to send and receive US-based text messages, so this would be an easy way to enable that. And, SMS text messages are becoming more and more critical as many US-based services use them as an additional measure of security for authenticating accounts (PayPal, Craigslist, etc.) or for approving bank transactions (I had this at Bank of America but had to turn it off when I moved to Argentina).
The downsides to Google Voice?
- You will need to pick a new number from Google as there is not currently any way to transfer your existing number to them. This means changing your old number everywhere.
- You still need a US based number for the call forwarding to work. At this time, the service is US only. Though you could sign up just to get a free number with voicemail, SMS, etc. and not have the forwarding or calling features.
- The Google Voice service is not yet available but will be rolling out over the next few weeks. You can sign up to be notified when it launches.
- There is no fax support, so it may not replace all of your numbers yet.
All things considered, it looks like an amazing service and I’ve already signed up for the wait list. You can read more abotu Google Voice at: