We’ve been huge fans of Google Voice for quite a while now — it makes screening calls and managing multiple phones a breeze — but there’s always been a huge thorn in its side: it didn’t allow people to port their existing phone numbers over. In other words, in order to take advantage of all of Google Voice’s benefits, you’d have to get a new phone number. Now, after years of waiting, that’s finally changing: Google has quietly enabled number porting for Google Voice.
Update: Google tells us that this is currently just a test available to some users and is not rolling out to everyone yet. However, it seems likely that a wide scale launch is coming soon.
Here’s a statement from Google:
“We’re continually testing new features to enhance the user experience. For a limited amount of time, we’re making the Google Voice number porting process available to users. We don’t have any additional details to share at this time, but plan to offer this feature to all users in the near future.”
The feature was first noticed by Engadget, and I’m seeing it in my Google Voice account as well. The process appears to be fairly straightforward (and yet terrifying at the same time): tell Google your existing cell phone number, agree to some strongly worded warnings, pay $20, and you should be in business.
You can see screenshots of the process below.
Oh, about those warnings. Transferring your number to Google Voice isn’t exactly painless — depending on your current carrier agreement you may have to deal with some steep early termination fees (ETFs) that can run hundreds of dollars. That means you should think twice about doing this (as the warnings make clear). And all of you who are about to buy shiny new Verizon iPhones may want to consider doing so under a new phone number, so that you can transfer your existing number to Google Voice.
This could be a turning point for the service. Up until now many people have only been able to take advantage of a limited set of Google Voice’s features (namely, voicemail) because they didn’t have a way to port their ‘real’ phone numbers over. Google Voice supports deep integration with Android, and comes pre-installed on stock Android builds, so plenty of people are going to be exposed to it, too.
I’ve been using Google Voice with my primary phone for over a year now, after the team offered to port my phone number over to the service (I was under the impression that it would be released for ‘everyone else’ much sooner than this). My experience has generally been quite positive, save for a series of downtime issues a couple months ago.
Yes, Google Voice will probably be a bit confusing to some people — it takes some getting used to the idea that one number can ring multiple phones. But think about where this is heading. Right now, you can make and receive phone calls using your Google Voice number directly from Gmail (which is awesome). Now imagine being able to do the same from your Google TV (which sports Android), your tablet computer, or any other Internet-connected device. It’s not there yet, but it’s only a matter of time.