Clearing up some confusion about Google Voice

I’ve been using Google Voice for about a week now, and I’m really impressed by it—the concept and the implementation. The implementation could still use a little polish, but Google Voice also isn’t officially released to the general public yet. Based on my limited experiences with it, I thought I’d clear up some confusion about Google Voice.

Is Google Voice a VoIP (voice over IP) application?
No, it isn’t. I’ve even seen some “news” outlets get this bit wrong. A VoIP application like Skype allows you to make a phone call for free (or for a low cost) over a high-speed internet connection. For VoIP to work, all you need is an internet connection—you don’t need a phone.

Google Voice doesn’t work that way. If you make a call with GV, you need an actual phone to make the call.

Google Voice allows you to have one phone number that can mask itself as being various real phones (sort of like how a address masks the real four-number IP address behind it). It also allows you fine-tuned control over how things get redirected. One contact could ring three or four of your phones every time she calls your GV number. Another contact could ring only one phone. And still another contact may go straight to voicemail or even be blocked entirely. You can have customized voicemails for different types of people who call the same number.

In this way, it’s better to think of Google Voice as a gatekeeper for your phones than a replacement for them (as VoIP is, in a way).

If I know someone who has Google Voice, can I ask her for an invitation, since GV is currently invite-only?
Nope. When Google first launched GMail, it was on an invite-only basis, but you could get an invitation from anyone who had a GMail account. The rollout for GV seems to be different. You need an invitation directly from Google. If you have a GV account, you do not automatically get invitations to send out to other prospective GV users.

What does unchecking phone numbers do?
As far as I can tell, having a validated phone number and unchecking it does not mean the number cannot be used by GV but only that it won’t be used by default. For example, if you have a mobile number, a home number, and a work number, and only the mobile number is checked, you can still set it up so that one or two of your contacts will ring through to your home and/or work number when they call your GV number. It’s just that anyone else not specified to ring through to those will ring only the checked number(s).

What’s the difference between call screening and call presentation?
I find both options kind of annoying, actually. Call screening forces callers to say who they are before the call will be connected to you. If you don’t want to annoy people calling you, make sure your Contacts list is comprehensive and enable it only for blocked numbers and not unknown ones.

Call presentation is annoying for you, as opposed to the person calling you. It seems quite redundant for me, actually. If someone is in your Contacts list, she should already show up in caller ID if it’s your cell phone you use primarily (I guess it’d be handy if you mostly use a landline). When you answer the call, instead of immediately being connected to the calling party, you hear an announcement of who’s calling you, and then you get to decide if you want to take the call or not.

What’s the caller ID option?
This confused me at first. The little tooltip says

By default, Google Voice displays the caller ID of your caller. You can also choose to display your Google number as the caller ID, so you know you received the call on your Google number.

I thought this meant your GV number would display as your number to the person you’re calling, but it actually means it’ll display to you as the number of the person calling you.

In other words, let’s say your Google number is 212-555-1234 and the number of the person calling you is 212-555-5678. If you activate the caller ID option, any time anyone calls you, the number will appear as 212-555-1234—or that you’re calling yourself! If you deactivate the caller ID option, the number will appear as whatever the caller’s number is (212-555-5678, in this example).

There is a separate setting you can use in the Google Voice app to say you want the number to appear as coming from your GV number even if you’re dialing from your mobile phone (this app is available only for Android and Blackberry right now—sorry, iPhone users, but Apple isn’t playing nice here).


  1. Sorry for my limited knowledge, but I still dont fully understand, what is GV? I understand that using GV give you a phone number. So, what if a person dial that number form their phone? What happens next?

  2. Well, whatever you want to have happen… happens.

    So if it’s someone you want to always get a hold of you, when she dials the GV number, it can ring your mobile phone, your home landline, and your work phone.

    If it’s someone you like but don’t always need a line to, when she dials the GV number, it can ring only your landline.

    If it’s someone you sometimes have to deal with but don’t particularly like, when she dials the GV number, it can go straight to voicemail.

    If it’s someone you don’t like, and she dials the GV number, she’ll be blocked.

    A GV number is not a real phone line, but it requires a real phone line if you want to have a conversation (an internet connection alone isn’t enough, which is why it’s not VoIP). Think of it as a placeholder and gatekeeper to your real phones.

    It’s kind of like how is a placeholder for What if Google changed IP addresses? Well, it wouldn’t matter, because people don’t type in the address bar of Firefox. They type

    Same deal with a Google Voice number. People dial it to get to your real phone, but if you change phone numbers, it won’t matter, because you can configure your GV number to redirect to your new number.

    I think this one-minute YouTube video explains the basics a bit better than I can:

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