Google Voice Provides a Lot for Free

August 01, 2009

I've been using Google Voice for about a month now, and I have been impressed in some ways, but let down in others. If you aren't familiar with it, Google Voice provides you with a phone number that you can configure in a number of ways. For example, the number could be configured to ring your cell phone during the day, and your home phone in the evenings.

Google Voice can perform call screening and provides a lot of features that prevent a phone from constantly interrupting your work flow. When you choose not to answer a call to your Google Voice number, or if you aren't available, the call goes to voice mail. These messages are automatically emailed to you as short audio clip along with Google's best attempt at converting the audio to text. So, your voice mail messages are actually searchable by keyword. This post is in no way going to cover all of the products features. For that, you'll want to look at its home page.

Unlimited Cell Calling

Google Voice provides a free long distance service. In order to use it, you either need to initiate the call from the web interface, or call your own Google Voice number and then dial the number you wish to be connected to. This alone is pretty great feature, because it eliminates the need for long distance service on land line phones, but it gets even more interesting with cell phones.

If you have a plan with unlimited calling to specific numbers (like Verizon's friend and family numbers), you can simply add you Google Voice number to this list and get unlimited calling to everywhere all the time regardless of how many plan minutes you actually have. It turns out that I am not a lawyer, so I'm not going to promise that doing this doesn't break the terms of service along the way, but it is interesting either way.

Free Dial-up from anywhere in the US

In case you don't remember, dial-up gives you the ability to connect to the internet through a standard phone line. That seems archaic and wrong, but it could still have some small use today.

Let's say that for some reason, your primary internet connection goes out. Perhaps a gopher chewed threw you cable, lightning struck your DSL line, or you get hit with a chrono-EMP that disable all electronic devices created in the last 10 years. Well, with Google Voice and free dial-up provider, you can still check you email.

There are quite a few services that provide free dial-up access. A quick Bing search pointed me toward fastfreedialup.com, dialinfree.net, and freedialup.org.

You might be wondering what I need Google Voice for if these services are already free. Well, the services themselves are free, but most of them don't provide many local access numbers, meaning the entire call will cost you a long distance fee if you don't have unlimited long distance. However, if you place the call through your Google Voice number, you don't have to worry about long distance charges.

This was a little tricky to get working, so if you are planning to try it, make sure you tell your modem to add spaces at the appropriate time to give it time to connect you to each piece of the chain. This is usually done by sending a comma (,) to the modem. For example, this worked well for me:

(My GV Number),*,(PIN),2,(Number to dial)#,,,,

Your mileage may vary, but that worked for me in the one quick test that I did. Dial-up is pretty awful, but it can be useful in a pinch.

##SMS Blocking

A lot can be said about the price of text messages. They are one of the areas that provide carries with a huge amount of income for almost no cost. Most entry level cell phone plans charge between $.10 and $.20 for each text message. This can be a pretty hefty cost if you start getting a lot of incoming text messages from people that don't realize that you are getting charged for each one.

Google Voice can be pretty helpful here. If you aren't giving out your cell phone number, and instead just give out your Google Voice number, text messages won't come directly to your phone. Google Voice allows you to choose what to do with text messages. They can be forwarded on to you mobile device, or they can simply be sent to your email. I haven't actually tried it, but I think that the forwarding rules for SMS are tied in with those for normal voice calls, so you could even choose which numbers allow texts to be forwarded to your phone.

Conclusion

Google Voice can provide a lot of added value for a free service. It is understandable that Apple has decided not to allow Google Voice on the iPhone. It changes a lot by providing unlimited long distance and removing a lot of the hassles of changing providers. You keep your Google Voice number even when you get a new cell plan or move to a new area code, so there isn't as much reason to stick with the same carrier forever.

If you'd like to try Google Voice but haven't received an invite yet, I have a few to give away. Shoot me an email, and I'll happily forward one on to you.

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