October 27, 2009

Google Voice Allows Calls With No New Phone Number

A new Google feature lets consumers use Google Voice without switching to a special phone number, potentially broadening the appeal of the controversial service, Reuters reported.

New users of the Google service will be able to have the calls that they don't answer forwarded to a special Google Voice electronic mailbox, essentially bypassing the voicemail provided by their phone carriers, Google said late Monday.

A variety of voicemail management features, including unlimited storage and text transcription of voicemail messages will now be offered through Google Voice.

However, it also allows consumers to make low-priced international calls by routing portions of the call over Google's infrastructure and the Internet.

Previously, Google Voice required adopting a special Google phone number, but the new feature allows people to retain their existing phone numbers.

The company will provide users with a special code to enter into their phone that forwards unanswered calls to a Google-maintained voicemailbox, according to Craig Walker, a group product manager for real time communications at Google.

"The call-forwarding feature did not require striking special deals with the phone carriers. Virtually all the carriers already allow this," Walker said.

Most cell phone operators generally approve of call forwarding since the carriers charge airtime minutes even after a call has been forwarded to another phone number.

Walker said it allows carriers to continue running the meter and they charge per minute while a caller is on a diverted call.

After launching in March, Google Voice is currently only available to a limited number of people who have received invitations from Google or from other Google Voice users.

The company hopes to make the service open to the general public relatively soon, but no date has been set yet, Walker said.

Walker declined to say how many people use Google Voice, but said the company has been pleased with the numbers.

Meanwhile, Google Voice has earned positive reviews in the technology press while also accruing some degree of controversy.

Apple rejected the Google Voice application for the iPhone, but has maintained that it is still studying the software. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has even looked into the dispute between the two companies.

AT&T cited several reports in October that Google Voice was blocking costly calls to phone numbers in certain rural areas in order to cut down on expenses.

The commotion drew the attention of several lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives who have called on the FCC to investigate such reports.


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