Google Launches Free Phone Service

Google today launched its new Google Voice service, which is an updated version of the Grand Central service it purchased almost two years ago. Google Voice provides users with a single phone number for all of your phones, free US-based phone calling, cheap international calling, and other interesting features. It's available for free in the US only right now, and only to those who had previously signed up for Grand Central. A wider beta is expected soon.

"We have made a number of improvements to GrandCentral and are relaunching the service as Google Voice," a blog posting credited to several Google Voice product managers reads. "In addition to the GrandCentral features you already know (one number, screening, ListenIn, etc.), we've added voicemail transcription, SMS support, conference calling, GOOG-411 integration, low cost international calling, and more. We have also integrated GrandCentral with your Google account and your Google address book."

Google Voice is a pure cloud computing solution: There's no software to download, and you don't even have to use the service from your computer as it also works with mobile phones, work phones and other landlines, and VoIP phones. You don't have to make or take calls with a computer as most do with competing services, such as Skype.

Existing GrandCentral subscribers will gain access to Google Voice over time. (I have not yet gotten in, though I've had a GrandCentral account for quite some time.) Features include:

- Google Number. You receive a single local phone number from Google and can use it for all of your phone calls and SMS messages. This number can simultaneously ring multiple phones, including landlines, cell phones, and other numbers. Google number includes call screening, "listen in" (for listening before taking a call), call blocking, SMS, free US phone calling, phone routing, and phone forwarding.

- Google Voicemail. Google Voice can optionally make text transcripts of your voice mail and send notifications via SMS or email. You can listen to voicemail online or from your phone, and forward or download voicemail. It also supports personalized greetings.

- Voice features. Google Voice also provides conference calling functionality, call recording, on-the-fly phone switching, a mobile inbox that's available from your mobile device, GOOG-411 directory assistance integration, and group management.

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