I've been following the wireless industry for the past 5 years. After all, as an IT consultant, my clients often have questions about wireless technology. I was a Cingular customer (remember them?) when they were bought by AT&T. After AT&T, I moved over to Sprint. I was a relatively happy Sprint customer until their WiMax technology turned out to be the loser in the 4G arena. A move from the Chicago area to a small town 60 miles west of St. Louis meant the end of my Sprint days. Sprint's coverage here was abysmal. From Sprint, I went to Straight Talk. For an MVNO, their service was pretty good. Their Customer Service (like most MVNOs) was lacking, but that's a big reason why the rates are so cheap. I've been a fan of what T-Mobile has been doing for the past 2 years, so I thought I would give T-Mobile a try. I like to support businesses that are doing things right, so even though my home office barely gets a signal, I put my money where my mouth is.
I knew T-Mobile offered an in-home signal booster (CellSpot), but what I didn't realize is that it's useless unless you have WiFi calling. When you are self employed you truly rely on your cell phone...for everything. The shiny new Nexus 6 I got from T-Mobile is supposed to support WiFi calling in a later update, but for now it's a paper weight. (Yes, I know I could return the phone and and walk away with no penalties due to the lack of coverage, but like I said above I really wanted to support T-Mobile)
Enter Google Hangouts.
I knew Google Hangouts was capable of making WiFi calls, but until now I had no need for it. Now that I had a need for it, it was time to get to work. I called someone I knew via Google Hangouts on my Nexus 6. It worked! No cell signal, but the call when through and it sounded great. Only one problem - my call came up as unknown. That's a major problem for a business.
Enter Google Voice.
I spent the next day searching for a way to make my number show up during a Google Hangouts call. The only way I could find that would reliably make my number show up was porting my existing number to Google Voice. There a few posts out there about getting started with Google Voice, but I did run into a few small issues. The point of this post is to cover my experiences and help you avoid any potential pitfalls.
- Porting your mobile number to Google Voice ends your current cell carrier contract. If you are under a contract, contact your carrier first before you do anything else. If you are thinking about switching carriers, now would be a great time to do so. Since I was a new T-Mobile customer (with no contract) for only a few days, I didn't know what to expect. Unfortunately for me, I didn't call T-Mobile first. If I had, I would have learned that my cell number and my T-Mobile account number are merged together in their system. I figured it was just a matter of opening a new line on T-Mobile and transferring the phone to it. Turns out, it's not that easy. I started the process of porting my number to Google Voice and then called T-Mobile. The Representative informed me that I'd be getting a bill for the Nexus 6. I explained that I didn't realize that I couldn't just get a new line added to the account. The representative suggested that I go out and get a new SIM card and call them back after the port process was complete. I ended up having to talk to three different departments, but the end result was a new phone number and avoiding having to immediately pay off the new Nexus 6.
- The porting process took about 24 hours. Google cautions that it can take longer, but since Google Voice has been around for years, I believe they have the process down. There's really no good time to have not have cellular service, so I picked the end of the week. That way if it took multiple days, it would hopefully be done by Monday.
- When you start the port process you have to have current cell service - Google calls you to verify ownership of the number. So don't cancel your current cellular service yet!
- When the port process is complete, you'll get an email from Google.
- After the port process, before you can make cellular calls via Google Voice, you have to get a new cellular number & service from a carrier. It can be the same carrier you had or a new carrier. You add that new working cell number to your Google Voice account as a forwarding number.
- I'm self-employed. All of my customers have my phone number. I couldn't afford to lose any business because my number changed. That's why making my existing phone number my Google Voice number was so important.
- Even more important, down the road if I ever change cellular carriers, it doesn't matter what phone number they give me - it will be added to my Google Voice account as a forwarding number. This should be the last time I ever have to port my number.
- If your cell number is not that important to you, you can always open a Google Voice account and request a Google Voice number from Google. You'd add your current number from your cellular carrier as a forwarding number to your Google Voice account.
- If you are an Android user, give Google Hangouts a try. It's been a great experience so far. I use Google Hangouts to make calls and send text messages.
- If you want to make WiFi calls and send text messages via your PC, install the Google Hangouts Chrome extension. You can get it here: https://www.google.com/hangouts/ - Note that this also applies to Chromebooks. Also, get a good head set. Thankfully, I have one and after using it for a week I'll be taking all of my office calls that way. I'm using a Sennhieser headset.
- If you want to have a good experience making WiFi calls, make sure you have a good WiFi network. The better the network, the better the experience.
- While I'd rather not use my Android tablet to make calls, I know I can if I have to thanks to the Google Hangouts Dialer app.
All in all, I'd have to say I'm very pleased with Google Voice. I'm definitely glad I switched. Do you have a question, or comments? Leave them in comments below.