Updated: October 20, 2014
If you are exploring different options for cutting back on your telephone costs, Internet calling may be something worth considering. Google Voice is one of the options you can use for making free Internet calls.
Internet calling is also known as VoIP or Voice over Internet Protocol and provides a cost effective way to make telephone calls using a high speed Internet connection. This helps to alleviate the exorbitant costs associated with using a conventional telephone service.
One of the options you can explore when it comes to making free Internet calls using VoIP is Google Voice which is accessible at no cost and provides you with free calling in the United States and Canada.
In this article, we will provide you with an overview of Google Voice, what it is, how it works, and how you can leverage the service to enjoy convenient communications at a lower cost than traditional phone service.
Google Voice Defined
If you are unfamiliar with Google Voice, it is a communications service provided by Google that provides a variety of functions that change the way you make and receive calls. There are also a number of features that transform the way we use SMS and text messaging. The main features you can use with Google voice include the following:
Unique Telephone Number: Instead of using your own cell phone or landline number, it is possible to keep this number separate when you choose a unique telephone number with Google Voice. Although this sounds complex, it actually enhances portability since your Google Voice number can be transferred to virtually any phone including your Skype number, home phone, office phone, cell phone, or any other phone. This means you can simply share your Google Voice number with others and receive calls and SMS text messages to any phone you specify.
Call Monitoring and Filtering: Google Voice provides you with settings tools that allow you to control incoming calls. The features include call blocking which reduces the number of unsolicited callers, call screening that requires a caller to introduce themselves prior to the call being delivered to you, and the ability to create different voice mail messages that are targeted toward specific callers.
Message Transcription: In addition to being able to create different voicemail messages, you can also configure Google Voice to send your phone messages to your email account. This feature will transcribe your voicemail messages and then forward them to your email account.
Free Calls and SMS: Google Voice allows you to make calls and send SMS text messages free of cost. Depending upon your current telephone plan, this may be a benefit. However, it may not be as important if you have unlimited text and calling services with your current telephone service.
Call Recording: Google Voice also provides a call recording service which notifies the caller when the conversation is being recorded. In light of the recent NSA allegations and the reality that Google is listening to your calls, this may or may not appeal to you. The positive side is the service can easily be deactivated in your Google Voice account.
How Google Voice Works
Google uses VoIP calling to offer Google Voice for communications via telephone, chat, and instant messaging. If you have a free Gmail account offered by Google, you can use Google Voice to call just about any type of phone, regardless of the type of phone service. The calls can also be made directly from your Gmail account to any location within the United States or Canada free of charge.
For international calling, there is a charge but the rates are extremely low when compared to leading Internet calling providers. The international rates for Google Voice can be as low as 2 cents per minute and can range up to 15 cents per minute. Plus, Google provides you with a way to calculate international calling rates so there are no surprises following your phone call.
Getting started with Google Voice is actually very simple:
Sign Up for an Account: If you do not already have a Google account, you can sign up for one by logging on to the Google website to create an account. On the Create Your Google Account page, the wizard steps you through the sign up process. If you already have a Gmail account, many people choose to setup a separate account solely for use with Google Voice.
Choose a Phone Number and PIN: Go to the Google Voice page and sign into your Google account with your username and password you set up for your Gmail account. Once you log onto Google, you will be prompted to choose a phone number. You can search for a phone number via area code, specific number, zip code, or by keywords. Once you find an available number, you will be asked to create a Personal Identification Number (PIN) which will serve as a security credential for your account.
Forwarding Number: When you have completed the process of choosing a Google phone number and PIN, then you can choose the telephone number where you want Google Voice calls to be forwarded. You must test the number by clicking on Call Me Now and then entering a verification code provided by Google once you answer the test call. This verifies that the forwarding number you specified actually belongs to you. When the call comes through, enter the confirmation number provided by Google. Then continue to follow the wizard that steps you through the process of configuring your settings.
From this point on, you can log into your Google account to configure the rest of the settings according to your preferences. When you setup an account with Google, all of the services are unified so when you log in to your Gmail account, you also have access to other Google services, including Google Voice.
Once you have completed this process, you can start making free Internet calls with Google Voice. You can also use the Google Voice number you chose as your primary number which will manage all incoming calls from your new number according to how you configure the settings.
The following video will provide you with more information on setting up a Google phone number.
Other Google Voice Features
Once you are setup with a Google Voice number, you can take advantage of the fully integrated services that accompany Google Voice. Some of the services will cost you an extra fee when you use them with a traditional phone line. However, the services that come with Google Voice are mostly free and simplify the management of all of your communications.
Some of the Additional features include:
Call History: When you log into your Google account you can easily view the history of past calls.
Customize Settings: You can easily customize the settings for each of your contacts which includes call screening and the ability to announce the name of the caller along with a variety of answering options for specific callers.
International Calling: If you plan to use inexpensive international calling with Google Voice, it is necessary to enter your credit card information under the Billing Google provides a way to easily check the current rates for international calls to specific countries prior to making the call.
Calling from Your Smartphone: If you want to use Google Voice, you should download the Google Voice app that is specific to your smartphone such as Android, iPhone, or BlackBerry. The app is available in the app store associated with your phone and allows you to call from your unique Google Voice number, as well as use text messaging and view your account history directly from your smartphone.
Google Voice with Hangouts: You can also use Google Hangouts to place and receive calls and text messages with your Google Voice number. If you are using your PC, you can use Hangouts directly from Gmail, Chrome, and Google+ which is available in the services when you log into your Google account. If you are using an Android device, Google Voice is made available through the Hangouts app and after you download the Hangouts Dialer.
ListenIn: ListenIn lets you know why someone is calling prior to picking up on the call. You can listen in on the voicemail message by pressing 2 on the keypad. If you decide you want to take the call press the star (*) symbol on your keypad and begin the conversation.
Conference Calling: Conference calling allows you to forward a conference number to your colleagues along with an access code and a time. The recipient can then call you at the specified time, allowing you to include them in the conference as they call. If you are currently on a call and a new call comes in, you can include the incoming call with your existing conversation.
Make Calls from Gmail: If you have a Gmail account, you can make free Internet calls directly from your email account. If you want to place a call from an email you have sent or received, the phone number is always highlighted in blue in the body of the message. All you have to do is click on the phone number and choose Call from the keypad that appears.
Make Calls with Google Chat: When you login to your Gmail account, Google Voice calls can be made from Google Chat by simply clicking on the Call Then you can use the number pad on your keyboard to dial the call. You will always know when Google Chat is activated when the circle is lit on the left hand side of the contact’s name. If you are using Hangouts, it is necessary to switch to Hangouts in order to place the call.
Spam Calls: For calls from solicitors and other unwanted callers, the call can be configured to be treated as spam. When the caller is prompted to leave you a voicemail message, the message will automatically be indicated as Spam in your inbox. You will never hear the phone ring and there is no notification of the voicemail.
Google Voice for Android and iOS Devices
Google Voice can easily be used with all Android and iOS devices, including making international calls in place of the services provided by your cell phone carrier. For each device, Google Voice provides you with a visual interface to access and manage your voicemail messages, make and receive calls, configure settings, and send and receive text messages.
If you are using an Android device, you must download the Google Voice Android app to begin making calls. The app enables you to use your smartphone keypad to dial calls. Additionally, you can view your voicemail messages, listen to voicemail messages using the Play icon, and delete old messages.
The settings function is quite comprehensive and allows you to configure general settings for making calls, voicemail playback, and work with your unique Google Voice number, and more.
Here is a video that shows you how to set up Google Voice on an Android device.
For iOS devices, you can use Google Voice by downloading the Google Voice app from the iTunes store. By using the app, you can send and receive calls and text messages using your Google Voice number. You can also view and manage all voicemail messages and take advantage of the comprehensive Settings feature that allows you to customize Google Voice according to your preferences.
Using Google Voice in Your Car
Once you have setup a Google account and linked Google Voice to your mobile device, the Google Voice service can easily be used in your car. To ensure safe driving, you should use a phone docking station for your car and preferably set it at eye level to ensure your eyes are always on the road.
Regardless if you are using an Android or iOS device, there are a number of apps you can download from Google Play or iTunes that allow you to use Google Voice services and GPS navigation assistance using your mobile device. Since you should never talk on the phone or text while you are driving, the apps are designed to read messages from Google Voice directly to you which enables you to answer them when you are no longer behind the wheel.
Some of the apps include Car Home Ultra which provides you with a home screen designed with large icons that make it easy to see Google Voice activities. It also allows you to receive navigation assistance without having to take your eyes off the road for a prolonged period of time. Car Home Ultra provides speaker phone capability and allows you to configure a single large button to dial a specific person. You can also use voice commands to activate and deactivate specific features.
Another app is known as SMS, my Car, and Me which can be configured to automatically launch and then watch for incoming messages. You can configure the app to watch for specific messages you want to receive from Google Voice, Hangouts, SMS, and other sources. When a message appears, you can respond to it verbally and then instruct the app to dial the number of the contact.
Overall, Google Voice has the potential to provide you with many conveniences when it comes to daily communications. However, like other services, it is important to do your homework and read the reviews to help you decide whether or not Google Voice is appropriate for your needs.
Google has made significant strides in the advancement of features for Google Voice, including working with carriers in the United States and Canada to bring Multimedia Messaging Services (MMS) to Google Voice. The carriers include Sprint, AT&T, Bell Canada, T-Mobile, and Telus which will support MMS on Google Voice with many carrier networks. Google has also continued to work on a number of enhancements with its Hangouts service as well as part of its expansion of Google Voice services.