How Google Voice Works

Google Voice can call all your phones at once

Google Voice unifies communication channels such that through one single, free phone number, several phones ring simultaneously. It works like most other phone numbers: give your Google number for people to contact you. Upon an incoming call, you have several options to handle this communication.

At its core, Google Voice is not a VoIP service like Skype, but it does take advantage of VoIP technology over the internet in order to route some of its calls, to allow international calls at a cheap rate, to allow free local calls, and to offer the numerous features it is known for.

Google Voice comes with visual voicemail
Google Voice offers a great visual voicemail service.

Google Voice provides a phone number. With it, incoming calls forward to any phone of your choosing—your house phone, smartphone, or other phone.

Another way to use Google Voice is to port your primary phone number over to this service, to use your existing number as your Google number, but this feature admits to a few caveats.

How Google Voice Works

Google Voice links with the PSTN—the wired landline telephone system—and the mobile network to hand over the calls. Any call initiated through Google Voice necessarily has to pass through the PSTN. However, the PSTN doesn’t do all the work. The call is then handed to the Google servers, which is where the numbers are pooled.

Say, for example, that the call is directed to another Google Voice number. That number is identified within Google’s numbers, and from there, the call is sent to its final destination.

The main aim of Google Voice is to unify communication channels moreso than saving on cost. As a result, you can easily switch carriers without having to change the phone number, because one number can ring any phone through any carrier. If you physical phone number changes, all you need to change is the number to which your calls are routed, which is at your discretion and easy to do.

How to Get Google Voice

Google Voice apps are available for download for the major mobile platforms.

Download For:

  1. Open the Google Voice website and click Get Google Voice. Sign in to your Google account if asked.

    Get Google Voice button on the web

    Choose iOS, Android, or Web.

    Android, iOS, or Web options for Google Voice

    You might also see a Terms of Service and Privacy Policy screen. Accept them with the Continue button.

    Continue button on Terms of Service page
  2. On the page that asks about choosing a Google Voice number, enter a city or area code to get a phone number from that region.

    Search by city or area code on Google Voice page
  3. Review the numbers presented and then choose one to use as your Google Voice number by clicking or tapping Select.

    If you want to see more than the few that are shown by default, choose the Load More button under the numbers.

  4. Verify your existing phone number with the Verify button on the following page.

    Verify button after number selection on Google Voice
  5. Enter the phone number that Google Voice should forward incoming calls to then select Send Code.

    Send Code button in Google Voice setup pages
  6. Check your phone for the text message from Google, and then enter that code on the Google Voice website in the text box that reads G -. So, it'll look something like G-9820.

  7. Select Verify to confirm that the code has been entered correctly.

  8. Choose Claim to confirm that you want to forward Google Voice calls to that phone number.

    If Google Voice is already forwarding calls to that phone, setting up a new Google Voice number with that phone will remove the phone from being used with the previous Google Voice number (i.e. calls that used to be forwarded to your phone from another Google Voice account will stop ringing that phone). This glitch only arises if you've used the same phone with another Google Voice number from a different Google account.

  9. Use the Finish button to finish setting up Google Voice then click Finish again on the final screen to open your Google Voice account.

Ringing Multiple Phones

Your Google Voice account supports several configuration settings and preferences, among which is a feature that allows you to set which phones you want to ring when someone calls your Google number. You can enter up to six different numbers to have six different phones or devices ring upon a call. For example, you may have your mobile phone, home phone, and office phone ring.

Here's how to set up multiple phones with Google Voice:

  1. Open your Google Voice settings from the three-dotted menu button on the left side of the Google Voice website.

    Settings in Google Voice menu
  2. With the Phone numbers tab selected, locate the Linked numbers section of the settings.

  3. Click or tap New linked number under your existing phone number.

    New linked number in Google Voice account settings
  4. Enter the phone number that should accept Google Voice calls, and select Send Code, or Call if you chose the phone call option.

    If you chose the calling option, you'll have to click or tap Call once more to start the phone call.

  5. In the space provided on the Google Voice website, enter the code you received over text or heard over the phone call.

  6. Return to the Google Voice settings page from step 1 and open the Calls tab.

  7. Make sure there's a check in the box next to all the relevant phone numbers. If there isn't, put a check in the box next to each number that should ring when a call comes through your Google Voice number.

Google Voice Cost

Google Voice is not a complete alternative to the services of cell phone carriers, unlike Skype and the like. However, while you still have to pay your phone or wireless carrier in order to use Google Voice (since it has to connect to your phone to be used), it is still free, meaning that you don't have to pay anything extra to use Google Voice.

Google Voice does allow you to save money, though:

  • Make free local calls and overseas calls (inbound from outside the US) to any number within the United States and Canada.
  • Place cheap calls (at VoIP rates) to any international destination. Such calls would be many times more expensive through PTSN telephony.
  • Google Voice offers free SMS so that you can send text messages through your Google number without paying. 

Google Voice is available only in the United States. Since there's no way to use it elsewhere, if you need something like Google Voice from outside the US, you have to consider an alternative service.