Google Voice for Tightwads


Google Voice Basics

Google Voice gets you a phone number that will ring all of your phones (cell, home, work, etc.) and free calls to the US and Canada. For a complete overview of featuers, check out their info page.

Free Calls with Google Voice

The Google portion of your call is free. That is, Google won’t charge you. If you answer the call on your cell phone, your cell company will still charge you. If you keep a landline to get calls, you’ll still have that monthly fee. Hopefully

We are not going to discuss adding your Google Voice number as a Fav-5 or the likes because while it will get you unlimited free calling, it is probably against your cell phone company’s terms of service. (it is with T-Mobile, I don’t know about the other companies)

Here are 4 ways to save money with Google Voice ordered by difficulty.

Free Long Distance, Cheap International (Easy)

Pros: Free Calls
Cons: Need web access to place calls*

If you have free incoming calls, for example on a landline you can log on to the Google Voice website*, and place a call. Google calls your phone, when you answer it calls the other number and connects you.

Calls to the US and Canada are free, calls to other countries are very competitive.

This will save you money even if you pay for incoming calls if the cost of answering a call from Google Voice is cheaper than the long distance or international call you are making.

Free Calls On Your Computer (Medium Difficulty)

Pros: Answer and place calls. Free.
Cons: Need to hand out a new phone number. Need to be on computer. Need a microphone and headphones for best quality calls.

To get a free local call you will need a computer, a softphone, a SIP account and a SIP connected phone number.

There are tons of free DID providers but I recommend SipGate. They will give you the softphone, a SIP account and a phone number. The downside is that they require you to recieve a SMS message to get an activation code, which means you will need to have a cell phone to sign up. Other providers do not have this restriction.

After creating your account and downloading their softphone, you will need to enter your SipGate phone number into Google Voice. With the softphone running you should be able to place calls through Google Voice and answer them on your computer at no cost.

Free Incoming Calls on a Standard Telephone (Advanced Difficulty)

Pros: Answer calls when your computer is off. Free calls through Google Voice website.
Cons: Need to buy a $50 device. Need to hand out a new phone number. People wonder why they can’t call out through your phone.

Once you have a SIP account working with a softphone, you might want to consider getting it working with some hardware. The cheapest way to do this is to use an ATA to connect a standard telephone to your home network.

With an ATA you can plug in your phone to your home router, and recieve calls that your Softphone would have recieved. I have a HandyTone 502 from GrandStream and have been very happy with it. You configure it by accessing a web interface, similar to how you configure a home router. You may need to forward ports through your router to make and recieve calls propperly.

When set up correctly, your phone should ring when someone calls your Google Voice number, or when you place a call through the Google Voice website. You will not be able to place calls from the phone unless you pay your SIP provider.

Free Calls on a Standard Telephone with Dialing (Don’t-Waste-Your-Time Difficulty)

Pros: Normal telephones. Normal calling method.
Cons: Setup is difficult. This is not an officially sanctioned method of using Google Voice and may break.

If you are super cheap, technically savvy and have enough time to waste you can get free calling to work from your standard telephones in your home.

This process is difficult and nuanced enough that I will only make you aware of the possibilities here. You can set up an Asterisk home PBX system with a special program that will let you place calls through your phone as though you had made them from the Google Voice website.

There is a turnkey solution and detailed instructions but it is still a difficult slog through config files and late nights.

Other Google Voice Freebies

Free SMS (Easy)

Google Voice can save you money with free SMS messages. Google will forward SMS messages to your e-mail or your phone (or both). I was able to cancel my SMS package and now I just answer messages via e-mail (Google sends responses back to the sender’s phone).

Free 411 (Easy)

411 directory assistance probably costs you, if you use it. Google has free 411 built in to it’s service. Simply call your own Goovle Voice number and press 3. You can also call 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411) directly.

Summary

Google Voice can save you money instantly if you currently pay for long distance calls. With a couple hours of work you can have a nice soft-phone setup which could at least help you stretch your minutes a little further. It could even replace your home phone if you don’t mind placing calls through the computer. And if you’re really cheap and technical you might not even notice your old phone is gone.

Google Voice is a beta service and it’s free. It could break, they could change their terms of service and the world could end. In other words, keeping in touch with people is important. So is saving money. Weigh all the factors carefully before committing 100% to using Google Voice.

CAUTION: 911 will not work with a SIP phone unless you pay for e911 service! A cell phone will work with e911, even if it is not active.

I have been using Google Voice for about 8 months and I love it. I love getting free calls, the visual voice mail and being able to send text messages from the computer. Most of all though, I love that it let my wife and I go from a $79/month phone plan to a $50/month plan (including dropping texting services).

Good luck, and happy savings!

Footnote

* – You can also dial your own Google Voice number, follow the voice prompts and dial from your phone. This may cost you more as it would be an outbound call.

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3 Responses to Google Voice for Tightwads

  1. John Jameson says:

    This is a great post. Tons of useful information. My only question: is there a way to initiate sending SMS through google voice by email without receiving a text first? It is difficult to stop texting plan if you can’t intiate texts.

    thanks again!

    • stuporglue says:

      I don’t believe that there is a way to initiate it by e-mail.

      You can, of course, send an SMS via the Google Voice website (including via the mobile version) and from them on you will be able to respond by e-mail.

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