Google Voice and the unexpected benefits of a virtual landlineGiven the explosion of mobile phone use around the world, it is not surprising to learn that 50% of US residents have cut down on or completely ceased using a landline. Whether for convenience's sake or as a cost-saving measure, Americans are resorting to mobile devices as their primary method of communication. For some of us, however, the idea of not having a phone line in the home can be somewhat unsettling. If you have been wrestling with the thought of doing away with your landline but still feel the need to have a phone number dedicated to your home, a virtual landline using Google Voice may be the solution for you.
Google Voice is a service available to anyone with a Google account. It was originally designed as a telephone forwarding and messaging system. When you set up a Google Voice account you get a phone number which can be set to forward any incoming calls to other phone numbers. For example, you could have your Google Voice number forward calls to your cellular phone as well as your partner's so no matter where you are there is someone always there to answer the call.
It didn't take long for several technology companies to come out with products which allow you to connect your Google Voice number to a traditional telephone handset via an Internet connection. In essence such devices can be used to set up a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone system in your home which uses the Internet to make phone calls, instead of a dedicated telephone landline. What you end up with is a virtual version of a traditional home phone: a phone that looks and feels just like an old-fashioned landline but which uses your Internet connection to make phone calls.
The primary benefit of such a set-up is financial. Google Voice is a very inexpensive service. As of this writing, calls within the United States and Canada with Google Voice are free, and international rates start at 2¢ per minute. Why spend money maintaining a landline when you can use your Internet connection to make phone calls at a fraction of the cost? Using a simple device like Obihai's OBI 100 you can hook up your home phone to your Internet router and in a matter of minutes have a virtual phone line up and running.
There are also several unexpected benefits to having a virtual landline:
The ultimate forwarding machine
As stated earlier, Google Voice was originally designed as a call-forwarding system. With a Google Voice account set up as your home phone number, you can have phone calls coming in to your home forwarded to as many other numbers as you'd like. Forward your home number to your wireless device so there is always someone home to pick up, even while on vacation. Or to your partner's phone, or your roommate's. If you'd rather enjoy your vacation you can turn off forwarding at any time.
Check home voice mails on the go
If you use an Android or iOS mobile phone, you can install the free Google Voice application to check your home voice mails quickly and easily. The application lets you set up notifications for your Google Voice voice mails, so you can decide how intrusive you want your messages to be while you're out and about. And because Google Voice uses Google's transcribing technology, all your home voice mails will be typed out for you so you can read them on your device. Though Google's transcripts aren't perfect, they're good enough to get the gist of the message. And unlike other similar services, Google transcribes your voice mails for free.
Block the Spam
Google Voice keeps a record of all of your messages and phone calls which you can access through your online account. Is there a robocall pestering you on a regular basis, or a telemarketer that keeps calling at the worst possible times? Google Voice's online tools help you quickly identify these annoying callers and let you block them for good. Once a number is blocked it will never ring again, and the caller will get a recording telling them that the number has been disconnected. In addition, Google has developed some sophisticated software that detects unwanted calls and automatically blocks them for you, much like the spam filters they use to keep sexual enhancement ads and other similar junk out of your Gmail account. You can always review the messages and unblock any numbers that may have gotten filtered by mistake.
Personalize your greetings
Would you like to have a special greeting that is only played for a specific person or group of people? Google Voice lets you do that quickly and easily. Record a special greeting for your family and then create a group of all your family members using your Google contacts list. Any member of that group that calls will get this special greeting. If you live in a multilingual home you can record greetings in different languages and assign them to friends and relatives from all over the world!
With Google Voice your home phone can also be used to send and receive text messages. You'll be able to read them and reply to them through the Google Voice web interface or through your mobile phone application. So you can now tell your friends who only like to send text messages that they can text you at home.
Let the postman in
If you live in a condo or apartment that uses your phone as an intercom, you can assign your Google Voice number to the intercom system. If a person dials your apartment and you have it set up to forward to your mobile phone, you can answer no matter where you are and even let them into your building! Or you can record a Google Voice greeting letting them know you're not home. It definitely gives you some options for when the postman comes with a package that you don't want left unattended by your building's front gate.
Photo: Tracey Adams
Of course, as with all technologies, there are drawbacks to setting a virtual landline with Google Voice. Google has in the past cancelled services that many people find useful, such as Google Reader. It's possible that as Google further integrates its communication tools with one another, Google Voice may be deprecated or shut down. And even though it is currently a very affordable option, Google could start charging less-attractive rates in the future. Similarly, if a company like Obihai goes out of business and you happen to be using their products to set up your virtual phone line you may find yourself without support for their product and services with no warning.
Traditional landlines also carry electricity which can power an old-school corded phone. In the event of a major power outage, a good old-fashioned landline may still work, giving you the chance to communicate when your router may not. And at this time, Google Voice does not support 911 calling. If you have mobile phones around the house this may not be a big issue since any mobile phone, even off contract and without a plan, can make 911 calls. But there is a certain peace of mind that comes knowing that in case of an emergency your landline is always there.
So if you are seeking that peace of mind and the sense of reliability a landline gives you, then by all means don't let it go. But if you are looking for a way to save some money on your monthly bills, you are interested in the additional functionality Google Voice offers, and you feel confident that you can manage with a mobile phone in case of emergencies, then consider hooking up to a virtual landline.
Photo: King Huang