How Google Voice Works

Google Voice

Google Voice is a Web-based communication application that allows you to send and receive text messages, voicemails, and phone calls. It's easy to use: All you need is access to the Internet – either via cellular data, WiFi, or in some cases, LAN. 

The service is free to set up, but calling phones outside the United States will cost you a small fee. If that’s piqued your curiosity, read on to learn everything you need to know about getting started with Google Voice, including how it works.

What is Google Voice?

Like many other Google products, Google Voice didn’t start its life at Alphabet. It first saw the light of day in 2005 as GrandCentral, a service launched by Craig Walker and Vincent Paquet. It caught the eye of Google, which bought the service for $95 million in 2007.

Google rebranded and launched GrandCentral as Google Voice just a few months after its acquisition. It was the identical GrandCentral service with the omission of a single feature – Ringback Tone. 

In the interim few months following the acquisition, Google added more features. The aim was to release Google Voice as a comprehensive telephony service that would work over almost all connection types.

How Google Voice Works

VoIP takes a complex process and vastly simplifies the user experience in calls. (Source: G2 Learn Hub)

The truth behind the seeming miracle of free Google Voice calls is simply Voice Over IP (VoIP). The technology is well established today but only started gaining momentum following Google’s acquisition of GrandCentral.

VoIP is a way of transmitting signals over a network without traditional wired telephones. In its most common form, VoIP operates by converting the audio signals from the user's microphone into digital data packets and then transferring these data packets through the internet to a destination number. The digital signal then converts back to audio at the receiving end.

In the past, VoIP was slightly more complex than it is today. There was a requirement for special equipment both at your home and the location you called. Today, services like Google Voice vastly simplify this process. 

All Google Voice requires now is an app (if you’re using a mobile) and Internet access. With these simple tools, you can call anyone, anytime, anywhere.

Main Advantages of Using Google Voice

Unlike traditional voice calls, data streams can carry multiple “types” of information concurrently. For example, you can simultaneously carry out a voice call while surfing the web and using a web messenger. Because of this, it is easy for Google to add or remove Google Voice features at any time.

In terms of overall usability, Google Voice offers multiple advantages. These include:

Free Domestic Voice Calls -Free calls are limited to domestic numbers where Google Voice is available. However, this might offer significant savings depending on your location and usage model. For example, if you’re making local sales, the cost savings from Google Voice can be substantial.

The most significant advantage of VoIP is its cost savings. A typical home phone line costs $30-$40 per month in fees alone. Once you start making calls, the bill will constantly rack higher, often causing an aversion to even picking up the phone.

Supports Text Messages – Like mobile phone plans, Google Voice supports text messages using the same data transmission concept. However, this is slightly limited since you need to use the Google Voice website.

You can use Google Voice to send texts to other people who have Google Voice or those with mobile numbers (yes, the latter requires you to have their mobile number). You can also send texts to anyone who has an email address.

Transcription of Voicemail – One of the most powerful features of Google Voice is the ability to transcribe voicemails. Of course, the utility of this feature depends on needs. It might be most applicable for business users with unique needs.

Call Recording – Google Voice includes a call recording feature you can toggle on when necessary. While convenient, it’s worth noting that this feature is only available in-call. That means you need to enable it while the call is in progress.

Synchronized Communications – Because it’s available on multiple platforms, you can seamlessly work across them. For example, you can use Google Voice on your mobile while outside, then switch to the PC version in the office or at home.

Low Call Fees – In addition to the free domestic calls, Google Voice international call rates are lower than many competing voice line providers. Rates start as low as one cent a minute. However, some locations can be costly to connect.

As far as I can see, there’s only one disadvantage with this system, but it’s the same with any international calling service. Each time you want to make a call, you have to look up the rate card – remember all the locations and charges are impossible.

Where is Google Voice Available?

Google Voice is available to all Google account holders residing in the US. It’s also available in limited locations outside the US, but only if you’re a Google Workspace customer.

If you use Google Workspace in the following countries, then you can access Google Voice:

  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • France
  • The Netherlands
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • The UK

How Much Does Google Voice Cost?

Google Voice is free, but potential users should note several caveats. While the service comes at no cost, you must have broadband access. It could be via a data plan or WiFi – hence, you’ll still be paying for those services.

You should also be aware that “free” only applies to calls made within the service country. For example, Google Voice users in the UK can make free calls to local landlines and mobile numbers. Google levies fees based on country and region for calls outside that scope, much like any other telephony provider.

As an example, here are some fees they show on their rate card:

  • Australia (Landline) – $0.01/min
  • Australia (Mobile) – $0.02/min
  • Australia (Satellite services) – $1.95/min
  • China (Landline and mobile) – $0.02/min
  • Italy (Landline) – $0.01
  • Italy (Mobile, fees vary by mobile company) – $0.03 to $0.22/min
  • Japan (Landline) – $0.02/min
  • Japan (Mobile) – $0.04/min
  • Japan (Toll Free) – $0.03/min
  • Singapore (Landline and mobile) – $0.01/min
  • Singapore (VoIP) – $0.02/min

Google also sells Google Voice packages to Google Workspace users. These come in three flavors, available on a “per license” basis. The pricing for this can be somewhat complex since Workspace users may be in multiple countries.

Google Voice Installation Guide

How to Set Up Google Voice on a PC?

Setting up Google Voice on your PC is easy; just follow these instructions;

  1. Sign up for Google Voice and verify your account by providing personal information. Once you’ve registered, log into your account.
  2. Go into Settings (in your Google Voice account) and add a phone number you want to use with this service. This number acts as a forwarding number to send calls from incoming numbers straight through to your other phones.
  3. Once you link the number, you need to select a verification method. Google Voice supports verification by mobile and landline numbers. If you choose mobile, Google sends the code as a text. If you select landline, then the code is delivered via a call.
  4. Once you get the code, enter it into your Google Voice account and click “Verify.”

How to Set Up Google Voice on Android?

Setting Google Voice up on your Android device is even more straightforward than using the PC. 

  1. Download the Google Voice app from the Play Store.
  2. Open the app and log in with your Google account.
  3. Provide the app with a phone number you want to link to your Google Voice account. 
  4. You will need to follow the same verification code retrieval as on the PC setup.
  5. Once you have the code, provide it to the app and click “Verify.”

How to Set Up Google Voice on iPhone?

Given the rivalry between Google and Apple, it is surprising that Google didn’t make things difficult for Apple users. Regardless, the Google Voice setup process for Android and iPhone (or any iOS device) is the same. 

To set up Google Voice on your iPhone, follow the steps in the “How to Set Up Google Voice on Android” section above.

Final Thought

If you use Google Voice, you’re not alone. Millions of people have signed up for Google Voice and use it every day. With its ease of use, low cost, and many different features, Google Voice is an excellent choice for anyone looking to switch from a traditional landline provider to a VoIP service. 

You can sign up in minutes and start making calls immediately with just your computer or smartphone. If you want to get started with VoIP today, I recommend checking out Google Voice. Too bad its availability is so limited.

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Article by Jason Chow