Google Voice Rolling Out to Select Invitees

Google is rolling Google Voice out to users who signed up for the service. The VOIP management system assigns users one number to ring their home, work and cell phones. Though not to be confused with Skype's universal VOIP platform, analysts praise the service. Is number portability on the way?

Google is opening up its Google Voice VOIP management service to more invitees June 25.

Users who requested an invitation on the Google Voice site or previously on GrandCentral can expect invitations via e-mail, according to this post from Google Voice product managers Craig Walker and Vincent Paquet:

"Once you receive your invitation, just click on the link and follow the instructions to [set up] your new Voice account. To help you find a Google number that is personalized to you, we've added a number picker that lets you search by area code and text. See if you can find a number that contains your name, a specific word or a number combination."

Those who haven't signed up to get an invite may do so here.

Google bought GrandCentral in July 2007, adding a promising Web service to its arsenal of Web applications, including Gmail, Docs and other collaboration tools. The search and Web services giant March 11 formally unveiled Google Voice for closed testing among existing GrandCentral users.

Google Voice lets users integrate their home, work and cell phone numbers and voice mailboxes into one account, which can be accessed from the Web. Users can manage how they receive each call, what voice mail message each caller receives, and whether a call goes directly to voice mail or to a particular device.

Google Voice also boasts a voice mail service accessible through a phone or a Web browser, allowing users to listen to messages, forward messages, add the caller to an address book or block a caller as spam, among other functions.

Google in March added automatic voice mail message transcription, SMS [Short Message Service] support, conference calling, low-cost international calling and integration with its GOOG-411 service. In April, Google took a page from its Gmail application, adding an archive feature to let users store their call histories without cluttering their in-boxes.

But while Google Voice leverages the Web for phone communications, it is not a voice-over-IP substitute for the wildly popular Skype service, IDC analyst Rebecca Swensen told eWEEK. Skype is a free communications platform for cheap voice calls, messaging, presence and video.

"You can receive one number from Skype, but the telephony management and visual voice mail features offered in Google Voice [are] not there," Swensen said.

Swensen also predicted that Google Voice will have much stronger traction in the business market than with consumers, who don't typically require a call management service. "Those looking for a cheap alternative to cellular [or] land-line calls will still need to head to Skype and others," she said.

ZDNet editor Sam Diaz meanwhile gushed about the service:

"Seriously, it is probably one of the biggest breakthrough technologies to hit the telecommunications industry since call waiting or the arrival of the cell phone. In my case, I use a Google Voice number as my work number, programming it to ring simultaneously on my office, mobile and home numbers. I've also programmed calls to go directly to voicemail during the evening and weekend hours when I'm technically "off the clock.""

Google Voice has another rumored perk that is causing quite a stir. TechCrunch's Michael Arrington June 14 reported that Google is testing number portability for the service among a small group of users. Arrington wrote:

"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."

IDC's Swensen agreed, noting, "If the rumor about number portability is true this is an extra bonus for Google, as people are reluctant to give up their own numbers."