My Life With Google Voice Number Porting, Six Months In

Finally, anyone can port their mobile phone number to Google Voice. I’ve been doing so for the past six months. Thinking about making the jump? Here’s my experience, which is largely good. Plus, some thoughts on how this gives Android an added boost ahead of Verizon’s iPhone launch.

I moved my cell phone number to Google Voice back in August. Similar to Mike Arrington, this was something special Google did for me, so that I could test out the service ahead of the public launch.

Google Voice & Your Virtual Phone Number

Google Voice gives you a virtual number that’s not locked to any device. If you port your number to Google Voice, you’re still going to need an actual phone to point the number at (unless you bravely decide to take calls only through the web-based version of Google Voice).

The phone you point at is going to have its own telephone number. If you place a call using that phone without going through Google Voice, then your “real” number will be revealed.

For example, take this scenario:

You’re on AT&T with an iPhone, with the number (555) 555-1212 that all your friends, family, coworkers and others know. You port that number to Google Voice. You even cancel your AT&T service when doing this (this will probably happen as part of the porting process — when I did this with AT&T, I had to open a new line rather than having my existing account get assigned a new telephone number, which was crazy).

You purchase a new phone line, let’s say a new iPhone with Verizon. Verizon assigns a number to that phone, let’s say (555) 555-1213. You point your Google Voice number at your Verizon number.

Getting “Inbound Calls” On One Or More Phones

Now if anyone calls your Google Voice number (as many will, since it was your original number), the call is automatically forwarded to your Verizon phone, like this:

(555) 555-1212 > (555) 555-1213

If you have multiple phones, that same Google Voice number can ring any of them, like this:

(555) 555-1212 > (555) 555-1213
(555) 555-1212 > (555) 555-1214
(555) 555-1212 > (555) 555-1215

It’s easy to add or drop phones using the settings features in Google Voice. At one point, when I had three different Android test phones as well as my iPhone, a call to my Google Voice number would make them all ring, if I had them all switched on.

Making “Outbound Calls”

Calling out is an entirely different situation. You don’t have to think about inbound calls, once you’ve set things up. All your phones will get calls from your virtual number. But if you want to make calls as if they are from that virtual number, you need the Google Voice software. And the experience is also much easier on Android.

If you don’t use the software, then the reverse of the above will happen. When you call out, then your “real” number will be shown. That’s a problem if someone saves your number and tries to call you back later, if you’ve changed phones for some reason. Your real number doesn’t forward to your Google Voice number.

On Android, Painless; On the iPhone, More Work

If you have an Android phone, Google Voice is closely tied into the operating system. I can’t recall if the app is already installed or not. If not, it’s easily downloaded.

Once installed on Android, you can configure things so that your phone’s native dialer will automatically put all calls through Google Voice. You can also ask to be prompted each time you make a call, if for some reason you prefer to place a call that shows your “real” number.

By native dialer, I mean using your phone’s natural keypad. On Android, with Google Voice, you don’t have to fire up the Google Voice app to make a call or do anything special. Calls go out through Google Voice, with your Google Voice number, effortlessly.

With the iPhone, you can’t use your phone’s native dialer. All calls have to be placed from within the Google Voice iPhone app (the dialer is shown over there on the right).

I often find this means 15 seconds or more of delay until the app fully loads, which is a pain. It also means that if you’re using things like voice dialing or calling from a car’s Bluetooth phone integration, your call will go through on your real number, not your Google Voice number.

Texting & Google Voice

Google Voice will also route texts to one or more of your phones. I’ve found this sort of hit and miss. I’ll always get my text messages. But sometimes, they come in very delayed.

The chief cause seems to be that when I’m on Android phones, I have background data disabled. With that off, Google Voice isn’t constantly checking in to see if I’ve gotten a new text message. It only seems to check if I manually fire up the Google Voice application — and I’m always forgetting to do that. See, it’s my fault!

On the iPhone, I get my text messages when they’re sent. That’s because unlike Android, the iPhone allows me to set background notifications on a per app basis (I’m pretty sure with Android, it’s sadly all or nothing). So, I can have Google Voice stay on, checking for text messages on a regular basis, and not have other apps draining my battery.

Sadly, while Android integrates Google Voice into the dialer, it doesn’t appear to have done the same for the native text messaging software on phones. That means you have to send text messages using Google Voice, if you don’t want them to come from your real number. The same is true for the iPhone.

By the way, get used to being texted twice for any message. Any inbound text will go both to your Google Voice app on the phone and to the phone’s native app. That’s why it’s so easy to accidentally respond using your phone’s native text messaging app — which can puzzle someone on the other end, if they don’t know your “real” number. Despite getting two copies, however, only a single message will be counted towards your bill or text message allowance.

Postscript: As comments point out below, the double texting is my own fault — there’s a setting that would cause text messages to go only through the Google Voice system (with the added advantage of not counting against your text allowance at all).

Voicemail & Call Quality

Google Voice’s own voicemail can be used instead of your phone’s voicemail. The advantage to that is Google Voice will transcribe the voicemail and send you an email of the transcription, which can be a real time saver. Plus, it can make for a fun laugh when the transcriptions go wrong, as I find they often do. You can usually read enough to figure out what the message means, though.

Call quality is hard to measure. Occasionally, I’ve had bad calls. Rarely can I tell if this is due to using the Google Voice network or an issue with Verizon or AT&T. For the most part, it’s a non-issue.

Receiving & Placing Calls

As for getting calls themselves, that’s worked extremely well. If someone calls me, the call seems to go through without any delays or problems.

Placing calls also generally works well, though a few times, I’ve been unable to use Google Voice when I’ve had a poor data connection. Typically, this has been with the iPhone, if I recall correctly. It lacks any native integration of Google Voice — so if the app can’t get a data signal, you can’t use it. With Android, calling out hasn’t needed a good data feed (indeed, with Verizon, a call would block any data signal at all).

Best Feature: Freedom!

My move to Google Voice as my main number hasn’t been painless, but it has been very positive. Most important, I control my number now. Freedom! Port your number, and you can point it anywhere you like. It’s hard not to love that.

Indeed, it feels like the way things should have always worked. It’s also comes at a convenient time. Just when literally millions of people will be debating whether to jump from Android to the iPhone on Verizon, Google rolls out a way to get in on the action.

Google Voice, when a number is ported, makes Android especially more compelling. As with Android’s built-in GPS, it’s an edge that the iPhone lacks — and which may cause some would-be iPhone jumper to sit tight. See my past article, A Tale Of Three Android Phones: Droid 2, Samsung Fascinate & Google Nexus S, for some more thoughts on that GPS edge.

Why’d it take so long? Last year, I ripped into Google for the delay in porting. At that time, Google said the porting wasn’t easy enough yet. Indeed, as it allowed me into the test program, I found porting was a two week long complicated process, exactly as Google warned me it would be.

I still find it an odd coincidence that porting has finally arrived right when Android needed a little bump — and right when Verizon is suddenly pals with Apple after being so cozy with Google and Android. But there’s no doubt porting as I encountered last year wouldn’t have worked for most consumers. Google tells me the process is much more streamlined now and says should take only 24 hours. Here’s hoping that proves true.

Related Topics: Channel: Mobile | Features: General | Google: Mobile | Google: Voice | Top News

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • http://www.ryanmjones.com Ryan Jones

    My Google voice # is the one I usually give out to everybody (it’s on my webpage) but the last few TV / Radio interviews I’ve done I had to call them back on my real # because the Google voice quality was so bad they couldn’t use it on air. Granted, It could be AT&T’s lack of coverage in Detroit (I do have an iPhone) but it got DID get better when I called using my regular number.

    (yes I know one should never do Radio/TV on a cell phone, but sometimes you just can’t get to a landline)

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/looksmart/ zxspectrum

    And the Carriers/ Hardware Manufacturers are Android biggest supporters…how funny. Eventually, Google will have one phone(G5) and their own dark fiber VOIP network!

    #evil
    #tricky
    #greed
    #trojan-horse
    #forever-beta
    #supportless

  • http://www.reidspice.com reidspice

    I’ve been considering this move as I’m leaning towards dumping my AT&T contract early for the Verizon iPhone anyway so seems like the timing is good for breaking my contract via porting. However, one of the benefits I was envisioning was not signing up for a text messaging plan on Verizon and just handling all text messages through GV + push notifications on the iPhone. Is this not possible? Does it still need to use the back-end SMS system for your carrier somehow? Saving $120/year would make this even more compelling..

  • Michael Olsen

    Yes you can use google voice for texting and not pay for texting. Also there is a setting in Google Voice to toggle on or off text forwarding. Mine is turned off so I never get ‘double texts.

  • http://about.me/pollyjones Polly Jones

    I have been using Google voice for about 8 months, and I never get double texts on Android. Google texts only go through Google, and never show in my phone texts. I love Voice, and use it daily, as my business # is through there. Never have problems will call quality either, and it does take a couple of seconds for it to load when I make a call, but it is not annoying by any means. If I had not had my mobile # for the last 10 years, I would consider porting it., but I like using the Google for business, and my personal # for friends and family.

  • http://teltub.com/ghome farid.fadaie

    Porting my num to GV from AT&T took 3 hours of holding. It’s tricky to have them not charge you early termination fees. My experience: http://blog.teltub.com/2011/01/home-phone-and-cell-phone-with-one.html

  • http://www.tenorpartners.com Matthew Stotts

    Danny thanks for the public service you continue to provide with these thorough reviews – i have both Chrome laptop and Nexus One and am eager to get iPhone on Verizon knowing that I’ll be able to use google voice, but wait….?

    ” (indeed, with Verizon, a call would block any data signal at all).”

    Do you mean to tell me you can’t use data while on a phone call if you’re with Verizon? Is this a CDMA v. GSM issue? Carrier issue?

  • phxees

    It seems like Google has somewhat conveniently left out that once you do this you can’t undo this, as far as I can tell. So, if you ever decide that this isn’t for you or another company comes up with a similar offering you may be stuck until Google gets around to enabling porting numbers back out.

    While I am not positive this is the case, I do know that Google said that people won’t be able to take their Google Voice number with them in the past.

    Just a word of warning.

  • Tom Nagle

    I’ve had a Grand Central/Google Voice number for years, and I currently have been using Google Voice on the original Motorola Droid for past year (in Delaware). Google Voice is a great service, with a lot of great attributes.

    I do give the number out as my main personal number all the time; if someone (or business) abuses the number, I block them. It’s also nice having a reliable record (that’s searchable) of every text and voicemail I get.

    My main gripes with Google Voice, however, are:

    1) outbound call quality. Echoing the comments of someone above, I’ve had to call back on my regular Verizon number many times because I couldn’t be understood due to bad call quality. As soon as I called back, it was fine. Sometimes using a headset helped (the Droid was suspect), but the quality was still bad through GV. The call quality wasn’t poor, 100% of the time, but it was bad enough that I make most calls with my Verizon number.

    2) You can send or receive images with the texting part of GV. I’m sure this will become a feature soon enough though.

  • http://www.techdirt.com/ Mike Masnick

    Danny, good review. I’ve had intermittent issues with Google Voice outbound quality (usually in the form of lag), but that has been happening less and less.

    However, I *think* you got one thing wrong in the review. When you talk about the double texting issue, you mention that it can make you accidentally reply from the “native” phone number, but I don’t believe that’s the case. I’m pretty sure that the way Google Voice works is that there’s a “middleman” phone number that is used, and if you text back whoever sent you a text from your native texting app in Android, it actually goes through that middleman number, which makes it *look* like the text came from your GV number.

    I know that even with Google Voice, when I receive texts, I frequently use the native SMS app and I’m almost positive that the replies appear to still come from my GV app.

  • http://BriefEpisode.com Gib Episode

    Danny, the double texting issue is another problem from your settings. This time though, it’s the default. Just go to your Google Voice settings on the web and make sure it doesn’t send a copy to your phone.

    As for call quality, I agree with the other commenter. Google Voice sometimes is crystal clear, and sometimes it’s completely unusable. Part of this is, I think, dependent on your bandwidth usage (I download stuff on my home WiFi and the call quality goes down). Part of it is just Google Voice not being consistent for VOIP — I’ve seen this on the computer and on the phone.

    The bummer for the bad consistency for call quality is that some people will still get your mobile phone’s native number rather than Google Voice and this can be very confusing for them and for you when they just call the last number they have and your phone is off and you don’t see the call on GVoice on your laptop.

    It’s also bad when you have Do Not Disturb enabled and someone calls your mobile’s native number — those calls go through, and with Murphy’s law, it means a baby is asleep or you’re in a meeting or church or a film.

    Google Voice really rocks but there are a few bumps.

  • http://daggle.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments and sharing your own experiences. Especially appreciate the info on changing text settings — will fix that!

  • Michael Burton

    The biggest thing holding me back is that Google Voice silently drops MMS messages. I don’t even really care all THAT much about getting images and contacts when they get to me. I can live without them if I need to for awhile. But it bothers me that the sender has no idea that I didn’t receive their message. I’ve seen it happen, it’s confusing, and I don’t want it to happen to me.

  • Monika Adach

    Hello! I recently received a work phone through Verizon (iphone). I decided it would be best to port my older personal number that was through Tmobile over to Google voice so I could use this number in the future off my business phone. I paid for the number porting service through google wallet over a month ago and although according to the google website this process should take 24hrs the status still shows in progress. I have sent multiple emails to google with no response and they do not have a live phone number. I checked with both of my carriers (tmobile as well as verizon) and neither show a port request and there is no holdups on their part. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!!

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