How to add Google Voice voicemail to your iPhone - with your current number

Frustrated with your carrier's limited voicemail services? You can have your phone's native number plus all the wonderful power of Google Voice's voicemail. David Gewirtz shows you how.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

For the past four years, I've been using Google Voice (and taking you through all of the ins-and-outs of the service in a very extensive series of articles, see links below). But last week marked a milestone of sorts: I moved my number away from Google Voice and to a regular carrier account.

And then moved it back -- well, at least the voicemail features.

In I left Android for the iPhone 6s Plus. First I hated it. Then I didn't, I alluded to this transition, but didn't describe it in detail. Many of you have asked me how to go about doing what I did, so that's what we'll discuss now.

Moving off Google Voice

Let's start with the move off of Google Voice. This trick doesn't require you to have used Google Voice before, but some of you were very confused by this stage, so I'll discuss that first, then move on to how to set up voicemail.

Moving off Google Voice really means that the number I use as my primary number was ported from Google Voice to Verizon. I accomplished this very simply: I walked into my Verizon store and asked them to do the port.

The one place things got confusing was the PIN code. When you port your number you need a PIN code as well. Google Voice doesn't provide a PIN code, but if you use the last four digits of the Google Voice number, the port will go through.

Once you port your number off of Google Voice, your Google Voice account remains active. You can still go to voice.google.com. You just can't use it for phone number-related services like answering a phone, sending a text message, or voice mail. It's basically a placeholder.

One other note: when the number finally ported away from Google Voice, our text message history went away. This caused some consternation, but we got it back. Read on for that detail.

Why move off of Google Voice

Another question I was asked is why, after all these years, would I move off of Google Voice. To some degree, I answered that in Is Google Voice still relevant? A phone buyer's guide.

For me, though, there were two key answers. First, I wasn't getting as much value from Google Voice as I had when I first signed up, and second -- and far more relevant -- most of the neat intelligent assistant and wearable systems don't work with Google Voice.

Here's an example. With Google Voice, if I say to Siri (or Google Now) "text Jim and tell him I'll be 10 minutes late," both systems would send a text using the phone's native phone number, not my Google Voice number. This lack of use of a native number got old after a while. I found I was unable to use many of the modern phone features without causing confusion.

So I ported my phone number from Google Voice to my new iPhone 6s Plus, running on Verizon.

How to still use Google Voice voicemail

This brings us to the how-to portion of today's big event. Once my phone number was ported to my iPhone and Verizon, I found I had what they call visual voicemail and what I call "meh."

Visual voicemail is a capability where you can see a list of your callers on the iPhone, but not the contents of their messages. You still have to play the messages back. And you have to do it from the phone app.

This was a far cry from what I had long been used to on Google Voice. Not only could I get voicemail messages in text, but they'd show up in my email inbox. I could also assign any caller to any greeting, do all sorts of sophisticated spam management, and more.

While Verizon and the iPhone offered call blocking, it was a pale comparison to Google Voice.

Aside: After all this time, with 16- to 128GB on the phone, why do we even use the carriers for voicemail? Why isn't voicemail simply an app integrated into the phone? If the phone can record 4K video, presumably the phone can record some short voice messages. End rant.

My rant, however, provides the key to how to set this up. When you get a phone, you have to link it to your carrier's voicemail. This is either done for you when you get your code, or you type a series of coded numbers into your phone that effectively tells your phone to forward calls to a remote number if they're not answered on the phone.

All you need to do with Google Voice is type in a different series of numbers, and your phone's native number will forward to Google Voice. But first, I needed a destination number.

My old Google Voice account was still active, but it didn't have a number associated with it. Google Voice has an option to request a new number, but it turns out to be harder than it looks to actually get one. Most area codes are out of numbers. Rather than requesting an area code, I asked for a string of letters, and Google Voice told me the area codes that were available.

I picked one, and then had a new Google Voice number associated with my account. It's important to note that I will never, ever give this number out. It's just a destination port for when my phone doesn't answer calls. The area code doesn't matter because my plan doesn't charge me for long-distance calling, so when a call comes in and isn't answered, it routes to that number (which is somewhere, I think, in Wisconsin).

Let me be clear here. You're getting a new number just for Google Voice. Not a new number where your phone will ring. You will never give this number out and you are not porting your phone's number to Google Voice.

A few important notes: It took a few days for my old number to move off of Google Voice and another few days for the "pick a number" link to show up. It also took a few days after that for the "pick a number" link to actually work and not generate an error. But once it did, not only did I get a new number, but my old text message history reappeared in my Google Voice account and in Hangouts.

Once you get your number, go into Google Voice Settings and the Phones tab. Make sure you activate the mobile phone by giving Google Voice your phone's native phone number (which, for me, turned out to be my old Google Voice number). You'll need the check box next to Mobile turned on. Google Voice will call that phone and ask you to type in a code.

Then activate voicemail. Google Voice will give you a series of codes to type in on your phone. This disconnects your phone from your carrier's voicemail and then routes the phone to point to Google Voice. Once it's done, make a few test calls and you'll see you have access to all of Google Voice's capabilities on your phone.

Finally, I unchecked the check box next to the mobile number. I didn't want anyone calling the ghost number in Wisconsin and ringing my phone (probably spammers and demon dialers). Even if you uncheck the Mobile box, voicemail will still work.

And that's all there is to it. You now have your phone's native number plus all the wonderful power of Google Voice's voicemail.

I've been using it for a week now, and it's worked like a charm.

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