Google Voice: Configuring a complex home office

Summary:Here's how you can set up a complex home office with two phone line and Google Voice. This is the Mark I attempt at a solution. It works, but we found better options, especially since Google is deprecating the XMPP protocol.

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This project: The Ultimate Google Voice How-to Guide (2014 Edition)

Welcome to the 2014 edition of the Ultimate Google Voice How-To Guide, presented by ZDNet's DIY-IT blog. In this article, and the baker's dozen that accompany it, you'll learn just about everything you need to know to get the most out of the Google Voice service. This guide contains a complete end-to-end update of our 2011 Google Voice guide, chock full of new ideas, completely new articles, and amazing tips.

You'll learn how to port your landline to Google Voice, how to set up phone handsets, how to integrate Google Voice into your iPhone and Android experience, how to set up a multi-line office, how to get the most out of using Google Voice and SMS, and even how to use Google Voice effectively and safely in your car, and lots more.

So brew up a cup of coffee or your favorite tea, grab a few snacks, and prepare to discover how plain 'ol phone calls are about to be transformed into something virtually indistinguishable from magic.

This article is a continuation of our Google Voice series. In this article, we'll look at how you can set up a complex home office with two phone lines, have multiple handsets, and enable either person to easily answer either phone line from any handset, all while using Google Voice.

This article assumes you've already got a working Google Voice account and it's linked to your phone. If you don't, please read the earlier articles in this series. We are also aware of the  rumors that Google may end-of-life Google Voice or migrate its functionality more fully into Hangouts  and, if that happens, we'll update this series with all your best options.

Bits of history. Words of advice*

You are reading the 2014 Edition of our Google Voice guide. The original guide was written back in 2011. Since the original guide was written, my wife and I have taken our home office phone system through a number of iterations, each of which is documented in this and the following three articles.

No one solution serves everyone, and you may find that one of the solutions we used and discarded is perfect for you, or you may choose to learn from our experience and go straight to the solution we're using — or even come up with something new and innovative that fits your needs better.

The point is, in this updated and revised edition, I'm going to both discuss the solutions and what we liked and didn't liked, and as you read through the next few articles you'll be able to benefit from our three years of living with these alternatives.

Our old, landline solution

Throughout this series, I've shown you the various steps I took in setting up my Google Voice system. The reasons I took those specific steps had to do with the phone "environment" my wife and I wanted in our new home, which is also where our office is.

Back in 2011, we moved from a rented house into one we purchased and intend to live in for quite some time. So there was a necessary transition point at that time. Google Voice was to be part of the solution in particular because we were making a transition to what was to become both our new living and working space.

We had a very specific set of requirements, borne out of years of working and living together, and knowing our specific productivity needs. If you're curious about that transition, you might want to read a piece I wrote based on some of the lessons I learned in making the move: Ten techie homeowner tips for Jason's new house.

Now that you have a bit of background, it'll be instructive for you to understand our phone environment prior to our 2011 move, back when we had two landlines in the old house.

Back then, we had two landlines. One was mostly for work and the other was mostly for friends and family. We also each had an iPhone (3G vintage). I almost never used my iPhone for voice calls, using it as a test engine for software development, an email client, and a network diagnosis tool. Denise used her iPhone when she was out, but not for much more.

When a call came into either of our two landline numbers, it was handled by a two-line Panasonic KX-TG6502 phone system. Both lines went into the base unit, and we had four wireless phones and chargers scattered throughout the house: one in her office space, one in mine, one in the bedroom (with ringer turned off), and one in the media room.

From anywhere in the house, either of us could answer an incoming call on any line, we could conference between the lines, we could put a caller on hold, we could intercom between us, and the other person could pick up that caller and talk to him or her.

It was, essentially, a baby PBX.

Requirements for the new solution

One of the reasons we didn't just go with our iPhones and leave it at that is we wanted a phone system where either person could pick up either line. This was not as important from a personal perspective, but was absolutely essential for office work.

As it turns out, this requirement changed considerably over the last two years. When we moved from a two-story home to a home where everything revolves around an open-floorplan great room, we found that it was less essential for any given handset to handle both lines. More on where this eventually took us in Google Voice and Skype: rethinking the landline handset solution.

We also wanted to be able to answer calls from anywhere in the house. We didn't want to get a call and have to run all over the house to find the one iPhone that could answer the call. You can't get from one end of the house to the other in three rings without running, and we didn't want to sound out-of-breath when answering a business call, especially for many of the media calls I get.

This also changed. The new house is much smaller and there's no longer a mad dash up or down the stairs to get to a ringing phone. We do have a few small rooms in the West Wing (yes, we do have a small wing on the western side of the house), but if we're to spend any time there, we just bring a phone in with us.

When making a call, we also wanted to be sure the person we were calling saw the proper Caller ID. We didn't want callers to get a random mobile phone number, but rather to see the usual business line or personal line they were used to and comfortable with.

Because we were spending so much time between locations, on assignment, and on the road, we wanted a new feature. We wanted our incoming calls to follow us, no matter where we were. If Denise left the house, we wanted calls to the personal line to immediately go to her mobile phone, without requiring any special fuss or changing of settings.

For the business line, we wanted it to always ring at the house in case one of us was there, but if we were both out, we wanted it to also ring on my mobile phone.

This "follow-us" feature, which we get with Google Voice, has proven to be one of the most valuable and heavily used features of the entire system over the years. It's saved our bacon far more than once (and bacon is always a good thing).

Finally, we also wanted to make sure we could both make outgoing and receive incoming calls at the same time. We're often both talking on the phone to different friends, clients, contractors, and customers and we didn't want to have to wait until one person was done before the next person could make a call.

Our one remaining landline

There was one other requirement, but it's a completely separate component, outside of our solution. I still needed a landline phone to call into the CBS Interactive webcast system. I do a lot of webcasts and radio interviews, and the mobile/VOIP solution I was putting together would still not have the audio fidelity needed for broadcast.

That said, I also didn't want to incur all sorts of costs and expenses. The landlines we got rid of cost us as much or more than our mobile phones, and it didn't make sense to keep all that expense.

In the new house, we put in one landline, and it lives in my sound-proof studio. We don't have a long-distance plan or any features on it, because I dial into 800 numbers or the radio stations I'm on prefer to dial me, anyway.

That one, barely provisioned landline costs about $25/month.

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I hooked the old Panasonic KX-TG6502 base unit to this, turned the ringers off, and set the outgoing message on the base unit to indicate that the phone is never answered.

This is an important factor. You might ask, since we're paying for a single landline, why not use it as part of the phone system? The answer is that I don't want Call Waiting, Call Forwarding, or any other service, and I don't want the chance that someone will pick up a phone extension. I need this line dedicated completely to broadcast use.

There's one tangible benefit to this spare landline, in addition to its use for work. It does have 9-1-1 service on it, so if there's an emergency, we have immediate 9-1-1 access.

As it turned out, I stopped using the landline for calls into CBS Interactive. Its quality declined considerably. Instead, I installed a professional mic in the studio and I call into CBSi webcasts (and the other interviews I do, like my regular BBC shots) using Skype. Skype over broadband has provided us with just about the best voice quality we've found (with the occasional bad day, of course).

Next up: the components of our home office solution (Mark I)...

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at

*Bonus points to anyone who knows what game-changing bit of computing history this phrase refers to. If you think you know, post your comments in the TalkBack below.

Topics: Google, iPhone, Mobility, Telcos


In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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