Google Voice: How to consolidate your virtual phone numbers

Summary:Google Voice doesn't normally allow more than one Google Voice number to ring through to a single mobile phone. This article shows you some ways around that limitation.

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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 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.

This article is a continuation of our Google Voice series. Up until now, we've talked mainly about using Google Voice as an individual. In this article and those that follow, we'll begin our look at Google Voice for Small Business, and help you and your business get the most out of integrating some of Google Voice's more interesting features into your daily work environment.

In this article, we'll start with some of the surprising limitations Google Voice imposes when you want to manage multiple phone numbers, and some possible tricks for getting around the problem.

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.

Some background

As I described at the beginning of this series, my wife and I moved to a new home back in 2011. At that time, we decided to "rescue" our long-valued landline phone numbers, one of which was the "family" number and one of which was my office number (I work from home).

We chose Google Voice because we liked the idea of having numbers independent of the physical location, and because we spent about four months commuting between homes (and never knowing when either of us would be in either house), it made sense to have our phone numbers reach us anywhere.

Obviously, we could give out our cell phone numbers, but we had lots of people who knew and regularly contacted us on our landlines and wanted to keep all that running.

When we set up Google Voice, we decided the "family" number would ring to her cell phone (since she was the one who usually talked to family members, friends, and home-renovation contractors). We decided the "work" number would ring to my cell phone since I mostly talk to the work-related contacts.

We also wanted to be able to answer either phone when we were both at home. I'll talk more about that in a later article.

So far, Google Voice could work with us. But then a complication arose. I have a second "work" number. I'm the executive director for a nonprofit, and that organization has a separate number.

For the last few years, I've had that number running through Google Voice. I set it to ring on through to the "work" landline, so I could answer it through my normal office phone, saving me from having to have a whole separate set of wiring in the home office.

But when I moved my office landline to Google Voice, I discovered a problem. Google Voice will not forward one Google Voice number to another. I could no longer get both the nonprofit calls and my work calls on the same line.

Okay, fine, I thought. I'll forward the nonprofit phone directly to my cell phone. No joy. Google Voice will only allow you to link one cell phone number to one Google Voice number, in a strict one-for-one correspondence. No exceptions.

So there's my problem statement. How could I link two separate Google Voice numbers to one cell phone?

Although nothing I found was perfect, there are a few hacky ways to make it work. I'll show yout those, and then I'll tell you what I've been doing for the past few months and why I like it.

Just do voice mail

The easiest way to consolidate phones is to not consolidate phones. In my case, my work phone number could ring through to my mobile phone, but the nonprofit phone wouldn't. Google Voice would simply take a message and email me.

This, as it turns out, is the choice I used for quite a while.. Since I obsessively check email (I've checked it four times since I started writing this article...okay, five times), there wasn't too much of a delay when someone called the nonprofit, left me a message, and I called back. Since the nonprofit line doesn't get an inordinate number of calls, that was an easy way to go.

The only problem was I'd sometimes miss calls that were time-urgent, like when some event happened somewhere in the world and mainstream media outlets (often the BBC or CNN) wanted some instant commentary and analysis. If the call went to voicemail, it was often difficult to get back to these very, very busy producers on a breaking news day.

I wanted to make sure I got calls when a caller called me on that second line. That brings us to the second choice.

Next up: workable alternatives...

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 Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

Topics: Google, Mobility, Telcos

About

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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