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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As more and more of us use smartphones and ditch our landlines, we're not quite as aware of the newness of being reached anywhere.

If you have multiple landing zones (like home or work), it's nice to be able to be reached by callers whenever necessary. So, again, because we had an immediate, tangible need (and we're still seeing the benefits), the risk of the port was worth it to us.

But if you're not migrating between a bunch of locations all the time, or you just think it might be a nice feature, you might not want to risk your phone number to a complex move and you might, instead, just want to add a new Google Voice number assigned by Google.

What if you just want to move your number?

Another aspect that's caused confusion among readers is where Google Voice fits into the number portability formula. Some people who have read my articles were confused and thought you needed Google Voice just to port a landline to a mobile phone, or move a phone number from one carrier to another.

You do not need Google Voice for number portability. Number portability is a law in the United States and you are permitted to move your telephone number across carriers and from landlines to mobile phones.

If you merely want to move your number, but don't need all of Google Voice's features or fiddly bits, just contact the carrier you want to move to. They'll help you make the move with a minimum of fuss.

If you rely on MMS

I've been using Google Voice's texting service successfully for a few years now, but it's important to note that multimedia messaging just doesn't exist on Google Voice. Worse, if someone sends you a picture via SMS, you don't get any notification at all -- it just vanishes.

Many people who use Google Voice use their phone's native messaging service for images and Google Voice for texting, but that's a bit of a hassle. If MMS is very important to you, Google Voice might not be the complete solution. Just keep that in mind as you think this through.

If you have DSL service

If you get your broadband over DSL, it may be difficult to move your number away from your landline. DSL piggybacks over the phone cabling system and many DSL carriers do not offer DSL without phone service.

You'll need to check. Some service providers do offer DSL alone, allowing you to terminate your landline phone service, but others do not. Because DSL carriers run on top of the last-mile lines of phone companies, a DSL carrier that will permit you to buy DSL-only service at one location may be prevented from offering that service at another.

Do your research ahead of time, or you might find yourself in for a nasty, broadband-free surprise.

Is it too hacky for you?

There is another factor at work. For us, at least, we saved a few bucks, but you might not. I'm an engineer, so I'm pretty comfortable (if no longer patient with) hacking together hardware and software solutions. But if you have to hire help, or you can't fix glitches yourself, this kind of hacky solution might not be for you.

We spent a bunch of months after we'd migrated our numbers wishing we were back on the land lines. The original system didn't work well.

But the point is, no matter what gear you use, if you're moving multiple lines to a complex home office environment, this stuff gets messy quickly. It might not be for you.

So what's the bottom line?

Should you port your land line to Google Voice? Obviously, that depends on your circumstances. I'll tell you honestly I did not enjoy the experience. It was nerve-wracking, frustrating, and I didn't like the complaints I got from people we talked to over the phone.

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It also took three full system iterations until it was something we liked reasonably well, and yet there are still some annoyances that need to be resolved. That said, it's better than anything we've had before and there are features that I can't imagine giving up.

However, now that it's working, and working solidly, I love it. A feature I truly value now is one I didn't think was nearly as important back then: the spam filter.

I rarely get junk calls anymore. When those calls came in, they'd interrupt sleep, interrupt my concentration while writing, or interrupt important or pleasant conversations. There were two or three a day on a good day. Now, we get one or two a month, mark them as spam, and never hear from them again. I'd much more relaxing.

The bottom line is your mileage may vary. But if you're willing to take the risk, if the risk is necessary (like if you're moving anyway), if you need ring-everywhere features, and if you'd like spam filtering, then go ahead and port your land line number.

On the other hand, if you're not moving, are only considering this as a possible cost savings, and would experience severe hardship if you lost your phone number into the mists of some phone provider's customer service jungle, then don't port your phone.

Be smart, think it through, and weigh the risks.

Next in our series: Google Voice: a step-by-step primer on ditching your land line while keeping your number

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

Topics: Google, Mobility, Telcos, Unified Comms, AT&T, Verizon, DIY


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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  • 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.
    • 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?
        • 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.
  • 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
    • 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.
    • @ttx19 MS needs to pay you guys more!

      Extremely poor effort on your part.
  • 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.
  • 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.
      • They did buy this technology

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

 closed. They should be pulling the plug any day now I suspect. Thanks.
  • 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.
  • 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
    • 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.
      • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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.