This has nothing to do with genealogy, but... I have written a number of times about Google Voice, a service that I love and use frequently. I have already placed two telephone calls today via Google Voice and received one. The day is not over yet. You can find the articles I have written in past newsletters if you start at http://goo.gl/HGB2E.
In recent days I have received several requests for further explanations of Google Voice. Those who sent the messages seemed confused over what the service offers. Apparently, my earlier articles dived into the "techie stuff" too quickly without explaining the basics of what Google Voice provides. I decided to answer the questions here in the newsletter in case others have similar questions.
First of all, Google Voice (by itself) does not replace your present telephone. Rather, it supplements your existing telephone(s). If you want to use Google Voice, you will need some kind of telephone, such as an old-fashioned landline phone with service provided by your local telephone company, a cell phone, a computer VoIP phone, or most any other telephone service. Google Voice doesn't care what kind of phone you use, as long as it has a real telephone number attached to it.
At the same time, there is no requirement for additional equipment. To answer a specific question, there is no need to wear a headset. In fact, you can turn your computer off and still make and receive calls via Google Voice as it works with your existing telephone. For instance, if using Google Voice with your cell phone, you can even place and receive Google Voice calls on your present cell phone while riding down the highway. (I assume you are a passenger in the vehicle, not the driver.)
In short, Google Voice is a free service that adds extra functionality to any existing telephone service. Outgoing overseas calls will cost a few cents per minute, but everything else on Google Voice is free. You do still have to pay for your existing phone, however. If you use it with a cell phone, you still have to pay the cell phone company for its services. Again, Google Voice isn't a telephone provider, but it does let you manage all of your existing phones and also provides extra functionality.
Google Voice provides free or cheap outgoing calls plus one new telephone number that you can (optionally) use for incoming calls that will ring up to five other phone numbers simultaneously. In short, Google Voice FORWARDS the incoming calls to the existing telephone number(s) you specify. I find this to be a great feature: I now give that one Google Voice number to everyone, and they can reach me wherever I am. Callers don't have to guess if I am at home, in the office, or driving down the road with my cell phone. They don't have to call multiple numbers to reach me. My friends, relatives, and business associates simply dial the one number at any time of the day or night, and I can answer the call on my nearest phone, be it my cell phone, my office phone, or my home phone.
Thanks to Google Voice, I have even received calls when I was out of the country from callers who didn't know I was traveling. They thought they were calling my office number. In fact, they did call my office number. As far as all callers are concerned, my Google Voice number IS the office number. Google Voice forwarded the calls to my cell phone and to the VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone I often attach to my laptop computer when I am in a hotel room. I only print the Google Voice number on my business cards. I also publish that number on this web site and sometimes when I send email messages. There is never a need to give the old telephone numbers to anyone. However, if anyone does call the old telephone number for one of my phones, that one phone still rings.
The added Google Voice functionality is not just for managing multiple phones, however. It also includes free outgoing telephone calls to any telephone number in the U.S. or Canada, low-cost outgoing calls to overseas telephones, an answering machine/voice mail system that is the best I have ever used, call screening on incoming calls, the capability to record telephone calls if you wish, the capability to block incoming calls based on Caller ID (such as telemarketing calls, calls from bill collectors, or calls from your ex-wife), and more. It can even automatically transcribe your voice mail messages and send the transcription to both your email inbox and as a text message to your cell phone within seconds after a caller leaves a message
Using Google Voice with a cell phone may or may not reduce your cell company's bill, depending upon your usage. The cell phone company will always charge you for the minutes you use on the company's cell phone network, whether you use it with Google Voice or not. Check your cell phone contract for the details; Google Voice will never reduce those per-minute charges.
If you use your cell phone to place long distance calls, Google Voice may or may not be able to save money. Many cell phone providers do not charge for long distance calls placed within the United States, but a few providers do. If your cell phone provider does hit you with toll charges, Google Voice could save you money. Check your cell phone contract to see what how much you pay for those calls.
Most cell phone providers in the U.S. add toll charges for calls to Canada although there are some exceptions. Again, check your cell phone contract to see what how much you pay for those calls. If your cell phone provider does charge, and if you call Canada frequently, Google Voice could save you money.
If you place an overseas call from your cell phone, most cell phone providers charge outrageous fees. Instead, you can save money by using your cell phone or any other phone to first call your Google Voice number, then use that phone's Touchtone keys to enter the overseas number to be called. Google typically charges two or three cents per minute for calls to most of the developed nations, a bit higher charges to other countries. For instance, a call to a landline phone in Australia costs 2¢ per minute while a call to Algeria is 12¢ per minute. Again, check your cell phone contract to see how much your cellular company charges for those calls, and then compare them to Google Voice's rates as shown at https://www.google.com/voice/rates.
With Google Voice, there is no software to install and no new hardware to buy. It works even when your computer is turned off. In fact, Google Voice will even work when you lose power in your house, if the telephone you use works without commercial power.
You will need to use a computer to configure Google Voice when you first sign up for the service. Once the configuration is complete, there is no requirement to use the computer again with Google Voice. However, I suspect most Google Voice customers do use a computer to occasionally connect to check on the service, to look for any possible missed calls, or to change the configuration. That's optional; I sometimes do not check the Google Voice web site for three or four weeks at a time.
Incoming calls are free, voice mail is free, outgoing calls to U.S. and Canadian numbers are free, and outgoing calls to overseas numbers are very cheap. In my experience, voice quality when using Google Voice has always been very good, typically as good as a regular telephone. Of course, you ARE using a regular phone to connect to Google Voice, so you will always be limited to the audio quality provided by that phone.
Google does work with any telephone. In fact, Google Voice is very popular amongst those who live in rural areas where both Internet service and telephone service are limited. They use Google Voice to add additional features that may not available with their present phone service.
I would suggest you first use Google Voice for a month or two with whatever phone(s) you presently use. After you have gained some experience with Google Voice, you then might decide to reduce the expenses of the phone system you have been using. For instance, if you presently use standard telephone service provided by the local telephone company, you might want to eventually drop some of the extra-cost options, such as voice mail or call forwarding. Google Voice provides similar or even better services free of charge. Perhaps you will even want to disconnect your local phone company's service entirely and switch to something cheaper, such as Vonage or Ooma or one of the many other low-cost VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services available. The choice is yours.
NOTE: At home, I don't have a standard telephone of any sort. I use a VoIP phone connected over the Internet to CallCentric's VoIP servers. It also works when my computer is turned off although I do have to leave the broadband modem/router powered up and operational. CallCentric offers several telephone services, including one that offers free phone service for incoming calls. Sadly, CallCentric still must charge Federal tax, about two dollars per month. I use that almost free service along with Google Voice for incoming calls and Google Voice's free service for outgoing calls, with a total monthly bill of about $2 or so. That's much better than the $30+ per month plus toll calls I used to pay to the local telephone company and I get better service to boot!I would suggest you proceed slowly; don't drop any telephone service until you have used the new service for a while and are sure that you are happy with it. Using Google Voice does make it simple to switch telephone service providers at any time.
CallCentric also provides 911 service for emergency calls. I can pick up the CallCentric VoIP phone, dial 911, and a few seconds later I am connected to the emergency police dispatcher that I happen to know sits in the police station about a half mile from my home. That emergency dispatcher sees my local address on the Caller ID. However, that service is provided by CallCentric, not by Google Voice.
Not bad for an excellent phone service that has proven to be very reliable. You can learn more about CallCentric at http://www.callcentric.com/ and especially about its free service for incoming calls at http://www.callcentric.com/did/.
There is no requirement to use CallCentric or any other specific telephone service. It is simply the one I chose to keep my total telephone bill as close to zero as possible and still have reliable phone service. You can use Google Voice with any other telephone service provider.
Since you are still using a standard telephone service of some sort, you can always place outgoing calls on that telephone in the normal manner, if you wish. 911 calls are a good example of that. Google Voice simply provides a new OPTION for outgoing calls: place the call over Google Voice and you could save money. You are not forced to use Google Voice for outgoing calls.
There are two methods of placing outgoing calls, one requires the use of a computer while the other does not. One method is to use a computer to connect to http://www.google.com/voice, log in, and enter the telephone number to be called. Your own phone will ring a couple of seconds later. Answer that phone and you will then be connected to the telephone number you specified.
The second method of placing calls requires no computer at all. Simply pick up any telephone wherever you are and dial your own Google Voice number. When a recording answers, enter your password on the Touchtone keypad. You will then be asked for the number you wish to call; enter that and you will then be connected to the number you specified.
On the downside, Google Voice is only available to customers in the U.S. Also, Google Voice also does not provide 911 emergency calls by itself as it works only with an existing telephone service. That other service usually provides 911 service so there is no need for Google Voice to duplicate it.
Again, I am satisfied with Google Voice, but it probably will not appeal to everyone. If you only have one telephone number, if you are satisfied with your present answering machine, and if you don't make a lot of long distance calls, Google Voice probably will not add much improvement over what you already have. For those of us who have more complex needs, Google Voice can add convenience and probably save a lot of money.
These features and others are explained with pictures in a series of short videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/GoogleVoice. If you want to learn more or set up your own phone(s), look at http://www.google.com/voice. You can also read my earlier articles by starting at http://goo.gl/HGB2E. Finally, if you have any further questions, please post them in the comments section below.