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

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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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, Telcos, Unified Comms, AT&T, Verizon, DIY

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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30 comments
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  • Why not...

    just use a mobile? Over here, Germany, more and more people seem to be going mobile only. Given that most landlines have a flat rate in at least one mobile network and most mobile networks have flatrates for their own net, plus the option of free minutes or flatrates for calling into other networks, the costs are pretty minimal - one provider is currently doing a 9.99 flatrate in all networks, for example.

    Years ago, when mobile call costs were high for those calling into other networks, it was considered inpolite to give out a mobile number. These days, most people give out the mobile number and not the house / office number.

    As to the landline, when I go out, I just pick up the house / office handset and redirect it to my mobile phone, then I am reachable wherever I am. As I have a flatrate into the network where my mobile is, it doesn't cost me anything and those calling my landline number don't get any additional charges either.
    wright_is
    • Sort of the point

      That's sort of the point. Many of us had land lines and are now moving to other means of communications. But the process of moving the land line number (which some people have had all their lives) is dicey, at best, especially to a mobile. And since our mobile carriers are full of such suck, moving the number to something like Google Voice, which lets you easily aim the number at a given service, works for a lot of people.

      The details are described in the rest of the project articles, reachable from the link at the top of the page.
      David Gewirtz
      • How is this a pro?

        "You can keep your existing number if you move, even across the country"

        Say you move from Pennsylvania to California, wouldn't calling down the street to the local repair shop, or to work, or wherever now be a more costly long distance call?
        William.Farrel
        • keeping phone number

          Google Voice is just a forwarding service. You would have a local number when you move, but your existing google voice number would forward to the new one so you will not need to tell people that you have a new phone number.

          The best feature I like about GV is the android app. This makes your caller id show up with your google voice number regardless of your cell phone provider. This allows you the freedom and ease to switch carriers without porting your cellphone number, yet keeps your cellphone number private.

          The only con I have found with GV so far is that you can't receive picture SMS through the service. But that's what gmail and other email services are for.
          chazz422
  • shut google down

    what you say it has been hacked so much that they can not keep your info safe and they are turning it over to the gov and the gov has passed laws but they can not keep us safe from hackers at all
    ttx19
    • wonderful insight

      On the behalf of the zdnet community, I would like to thank you for sharing your thoughtful, on point, opinion. This is what makes comments section such an amazing read.
      Jean-Pierre-
    • @ttx19 MS needs to pay you guys more!

      Extremely poor effort on your part.
      drwong
  • My concern

    I've been using Google Voice for a while, just a very simple setup with one landline and one mobile, with GV ringing both. I'm starting to give out my GV number more and more. And of course the free calls using GV via my budget landline are fantastic.

    Many other really neat internet services started out so well, but either crashed and burned, severely limited or eliminated their free service, or started charging significant fees, will this happen with Google Voice?

    Of course, I have a little more confidence that Google will hang around for a while, but how long will they choose to give it away for free? I'd hate to make a significant commitment then have it go away or otherwise become not viable.

    I've used other services that started out with much promise but then sputtered into oblivion, I can name at least NetZero, eVoice, Jajah.
    ProfQuill
  • It is a risk

    It certainly is a risk. I wrote about that a few days ago with the cloud service my wife likes that's shutting down, TadaList. In this case, there are so many of us in the tech world relying on Google Voice that I figured if Google Voice went away, no one who wanted to call me would have their phone number either, so it'd be a level, if disconnected playing field.

    It is the gotcha of relying on these services. But all phones rely on a service of some kind, and even in the days before the Internet, there were phone company service horror stories.

    I recommend two cups and a string, or a fire and a wet blanket as a backup plan in case fail-over is needed.
    David Gewirtz
    • "You never know how long Google will support this service"

      Precisely a reason NOT to ever rely on this.

      Google has a very good (?) track record of buying companies/technologies, sort of integrating them into the family, then not long after, shutting the whole thing down...usually with little warning.

      Not that they bought this technology, but their record stands for itself.
      IT_Fella
      • They did buy this technology

        It was Grandcentral.
        x I'm tc
        • OK then...

          ...case closed. They should be pulling the plug any day now I suspect. Thanks.
          IT_Fella
  • Like everything else....

    It depends on YOUR lifestyle. Since 2007 I have lived in 3 different countries. I am moving again next month, and will be doing so again a year after that. I have Vonage, and I have kept the same US number for years. I can call the states (and 80 other countries) and I only pay my monthly subscription ($35 after taxes and fees). The best part, is that people in the US can generally call me for free, because most service plans give free stateside long distance.
    Yes, having a number that goes with me wherever I am, is a great benefit for me. Probably not so much a benefit for someone who stays in the same place and will probably never move.
    sgtm8@...
  • New to GV

    If I port my personal cell number to GV and then add an employer provided mobile number to my GV account, can I toggle between the 2 phone numbers to initiate calls/texts (based on whether it's a personal or work related item)?
    New GV
  • Line2 is simpler and has customer support to help

    For $9.95/month Line2 gives you most of the GV functionality plus free porting and live support to help you through the process and make sure your number is safe. Line2 will also port your number back out for free if you change your mind.

    Another advantage of Line2 is that on Apple and Android devices it can use VoIP so you can place calls over WiFi or 3G/4G data to avoid using your cell minutes, make calls where you don't have cell signal, or place calls cheaply when overseas. Google voice mobile always uses your cell minutes..
    Peter Sisson
    • What kind of Spam filters are available on Line2

      What kind of Spam filters are available on Line2
      ramsy2
    • srsly?

      1) GV is free, line2 costs a ton more
      2) STOP with the FUD around GV using your minutes .... grooveip or talkatone BAM GV over VOIP .....

      If you like line2 and it works for you, great, but your comments seem almost word for word off the line2 sales website, the fact is, line2 delivers a very similiar service as GV at many many many times the cost.
      nonetwo
      • Peter Sisson

        Nonetwo: Even though this thread is a year old I wanted to comment in response to your comment. Peter Sisson is the Founder of Toktumi, the developers of the app Line2. So that was a self plug for his company.
        brianolson
  • Works well and big money saver

    I recently ported to Google Voice the long-established landline number of a non-profit who was only using the phone as a message phone. It was actually smoother than the process described in the article. I saved them $400+ a year and got a service that was much more useful.
    botias
    • I save $1200 a year not having to have a cell plan

      was paying $100/mo to att, now zero.

      Ported my cell number to GV, use it on my work cell.

      My work cell is a S4 which sucks but, I do get unlimited data and text(on Verizon!). So the no pic texts via sms I can just use the work number.
      everss02