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Google Voice's Secret Weapon: Number Portability

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Google Voice, formerly GrandCentral, is a seriously heavyweight product. When it relaunched in March, just a couple of months ago, we gave Google Voice a glowing review.

Once you’ve jumped in head first to the product it will straighten out your phone life forever. You’ll never have to worry about figuring out which phone numbers to give to different people. Give them one number – your Google Voice number – and then use rules to determine where your calls go based on who’s calling and what you are doing.

There are significant switching costs, though. You have to tell everyone your new phone number and get them to start using that, instead. New business cards have to be printed, which is another cost. For most people, that’s just too much heavy lifting to fully embrace the service. And there’s the additional problem of your outbound calls and outbound text messages showing the phone number of the device you are calling from instead of your Google Voice number. Your friends need to store that number or they won’t know who’s calling. And once it’s stored, they’ll use it, bypassing all the great voicemail and call routing features of Google Voice.

But Google has a plan to deal with all of these issues, we’ve heard. And it starts with Number Portability.

Today you are issued a new phone number when you sign up for Google Voice. But we’ve confirmed that a very small number of people have ported their existing numbers to Google (Google uses Level3 to handle phone numbers). In the U.S. it’s possible to port any phone number to another service provider – even a mobile number to a voip provider like Level3.

Google is only testing the service for now, but we’ve heard from a source inside Google that they plan to roll out number portability as a general feature later this year. Once that happens, users will be able to move the phone number they’ve had forever to Google, and avoid the switching costs.

That means you can switch your mobile number to Google and then just use whatever device you happen to have in your hand to receive calls. That’s an extremely powerful feature for Google Voice.

Outbound calls from those devices will still show whatever phone number is assigned to it, though. But Google has that covered, too. We’ve learned that they are preparing to launch apps for the major smartphone platforms that will automatically route outbound calls through Google Voice. That means whoever you call will see your Google Voice number as the caller.

I’m banging on every door I can find to get Google to let me port my mobile number over to them as soon as possible. I’ll have to pay a $175 fee to AT&T to switch away, but it’s worth it. As long as Google is around I won’t have to be shackled to any of the ridiculous U.S. mobile carriers. I can just use whatever device I’m testing at any given time as my main phone. And I won’t have to ask people to call me at my home VoIP line when I’m here just because my iPhone doesn’t work at all at my house. Instead I can just switch my inbound calls to Vonage. Callers won’t know the difference.

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