Google Voice: Just because you can port your number, should you?

Summary:Google Voice is an amazing service, but there are some limitations and gotchas. In this article, we explore the pros and cons of the service to help you decide if it's for you.

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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.

The big do-you-port question

Google Voice is an amazingly powerful tool, but there are some reasons you either might not want to use it, or avoid porting your existing phone number. We discuss those reasons in this article, and you should consider them fully before embarking on a number transfer.

If you're not forced to move your landlines, then you need to determine if it's worth the risk. Here's are some things you should consider:

Reasons to port your number Reasons to avoid porting your number
You can easily route calls to any phone you want The process is fraught with risks and there's a chance things could go bad
You can filter incoming calls If you have DSL on your landline, you may not be able to stop voice service and keep your DSL service
You can keep your existing number if you move, even across the country If you just want to move your number but don't need the rest of Google Voice services, you can port without going through Google Voice
You can be reached wherever you are, not just at home or at work

Google Voice isn't as reliable as a landline

You can give out one number where anyone can reach you at any time

You never know how long Google will support this service

My wife and I have been using Google Voice for almost three years. It took us about a year to get used to using Google Voice for both our personal phone and business phone numbers. It took a while to get all the kinks ironed out, and we've gone through a number of iterations in how we set things up, but we're finally happy with it.

Since I published the first edition of this guide back in 2011, I have gotten feedback from readers who were successful moving to Google Voice, but I have also received letters from readers concerned about the process, concerned about moving their long-time and well-known landline phone numbers to Google Voice, and concerned about whether there would be a glitch along the way.

While most of my correspondents were excited by the features offered by Google Voice (most notably, the ability to instantly re-route phone calls and filter spam), some weren't sure the benefits outweighed the risks.

Ultimately, they wanted to know if, just because you can port your number to Google Voice, should you? In other words, is it a wise thing to do?

The answer is: it depends

For us, it was a wise thing to do, because we were moving anyway. Our landlines were going to have to be moved anyway, and, after a few unsatisfyingly vague conversations with customer service, we were none too confident in the ability of our local phone company to get it right.

So we saw risk either way. My wife didn't want to lose our family line and I didn't want to lose the business line, but although it was certainly risky porting to Google Voice via the scheme I'd worked out, it would also have been risky just moving the landlines.

Second, for us, we very much needed the phone-following features of Google Voice, where calls would ring on multiple phones. Back then, we were shuttling between two houses, our office was partially in a moving truck, we were living out of one house for a few days, living out of another for a few days, and this all went on for six months.

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It just wasn't possible for me to constantly tell my clients, "Oh, I'll be at this number on Monday, this one on Tuesday, and that one on Wednesday." Plus, half the time I didn't even know. I'd think I'd be working at the old house, but then I'd get an emergency call from a contractor working at the new house. By using Google Voice, no matter where I was, I could get calls from my clients.

Interestingly, we've found our need for calls to follow us change by the circumstances. Once we moved, for a while, it seemed like we no longer needed to have callers able to get us everywhere we were. Then, a favorite relative got sick and Denise needed to use her RN expertise to help the family at all times of the day or night. In my case, if a news event broke or a cybersecurity crisis hit, I needed to be reachable. If a partner, advisee or media outlet needed to reach me suddenly, they could find me no matter where I happened to be at the time.

Next up: issues to consider...

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 Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

Topics: Google, Mobility, Networking, SMBs, 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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