Is Google Voice For You?

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While Google Voice hasn't been released to the entire public yet, early adopters have already been using it to talk on the phone for free in the US and Canada. Some people have even already started using it for business. A US number is required for use, so if you live in the United States, you can sign up to join when Google sends you an invite – they promise low wait times. Google Voice is not a true VoIP system; it relies on the existing phone networks in the US to work properly. That appears to be the reason why it isn't offered internationally at present. Here are a few of the features on offer to those who can sign up:

- Voicemail transcription. The service will translate your voicemail into text so you can easily read your messages on the go. Google puts this forward as perfect for students, as they can then monitor their phone calls even while they're in class.

- Free voicemail which is automatically sent to your email address.

- Free calls to the US and Canada. International calls come at prices comparable to Skype's.

- Free text messages to the US and Canada. There are apparently also free international texts, but only to certain undetermined countries and the feature is not supported. Don't sign up for it based on this feature.

- Call forwarding. Google Voice will transfer to both your mobile and your landline phones and as many additional phone numbers as you wish. If it transfers to a mobile phone, however, it may use minutes from your plan, whereas if your landline is local the call will be free.

- Extreme configurability. You can set Google Voice to ring different numbers at different times a day or send calls straight to voicemail while you're at work. You can screen calls, block certain call numbers, and move phone calls between phones while still conversing.

With Google's new acquisition of genuine VoIP services and the technology behind many instant messaging voice services, they are likely to expand further into the VoIP market. The ability for international users to join up and use the service may not be far behind. At the moment, Google Voice offers for free some features that traditional telecoms companies and even Skype will charge for, like voicemail and call forwarding.

Unfortunately, Google Voice's features are exciting but definitely need some improvement. There are many complaints about the voice mail transcription service, claiming that it garbles the messages because Google struggles to translate voices effectively. This means that you'll likely have to listen to the voicemail anyway, but at least the service is free and may be improved in the future.

So, is Google Voice for you? If you're in the US and are craving all of these features, especially if they're not offered by your current mobile or landline provider, I would suggest cautiously going forward and signing up. There are workarounds for international users who want to cheat the system, but as your use will not be supported by Google and can be terminated at any time, I would not recommend using the service until it's rolled out to your country.

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