One Number to Ring All Your Phones: Google Resurrects GrandCentral Service

Posted by: Rob Hof on March 12, 2009

With no news for so many months after Google bought GrandCentral Communications in July 2007, a lot of people thought it might be one more Google acquisition that ended up getting shut down. But the service, which essentially gives you one number for all your phones, has risen anew as Google Voice, launching in limited release to current GrandCentral users starting March 12 and more widely in a few weeks.

The free service, whose former incarnation was reviewed positively by my colleague Arik Hesseldahl and by the New York Times, gives you a single phone number that, when called, can ring one or several of your other phone numbers as you choose, so you’re no longer tethered to a single work, home, or mobile number. The phone numbers are available in most U.S. area codes, though not internationally.

You get a central voicemail box for the messages that come to any of your phones. And you can listen to that voicemail as it’s being recorded so you can choose whether you want to pick it up. You can also record calls and store them. The services are available via the Web or through the phones. “Think of it as a way to manage the phone,” says Vincent Paquet, a GrandCentral cofounder and now senior product engineer at Google.

Now that Google has meshed GrandCentral services into its massive technology infrastructure--that's what took so long, says Paquet--the company has added a number of other useful features. For one, you can get automated transcripts of voicemails and view them on the Web. The transcripts aren't perfect, but more than good enough to get the gist at a glance.

There's also support for SMS messaging, so you can send and receive text messages from the service. You can also decide if you want each voicemail that comes in to send you an SMS message or an email. And Google has added conference calling, assuming your chosen phone has has call waiting. Moreover, the service is now integrated with your Google I.D., so you can use the same contacts that are in your Gmail account.

Finally, Google has added the ability to place international calls, if you buy packages via Google Checkout. (Google has contracts with carriers, so it doesn't use peer-to-peer technology like Skype.) U.S. calls are free. And there are some other useful features, such as the ability to add special greetings for various groups like friends, family, or work contacts, mark telemarketing calls as spam so they don't ring or go to voicemail, and block callers so they get a message that they've reached a non-working number (complete with the usual three-tone signal, heehee). You can even switch phones in the middle of a call.

It looks like a useful set of services, the only challenge being that you have to tell all your friends and contacts you have a new phone number.

Although Google is not announcing plans for advertising related to Voice, it's not hard to figure out a business there. Especially with the transcripts, it would be easy to target ads based on topics mentioned in them, assuming that doesn't freak out privacy hawks.

For now, though, Google Voice will be supported by revenues from charging for international calls. Paquet thinks that will be plenty of revenue to get to at least break-even.

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Reader Comments

Robert Beaty

March 12, 2009 10:28 AM

Please send info to use Grand Central on all three of my numbers.

steve

March 12, 2009 10:39 AM

what happens if you're calling your wife, who is at home, from your cell phone, and both your home phone and cell phone are using the same number?

Googleisterrible

March 12, 2009 10:40 AM

And as soon as Google is not evil anymore and treats peoples data with some level of discretion then I might use this service and many other of their services. Google=the biggest threat to 21st century.

sapostol@yahoo.com

March 12, 2009 10:54 AM

Any voice service provider that uses VoIP, including Vonage, Comcast, Pulse Telecom, etc can offer th same feature. It is a matter of how they adverstise their services.

Seatech1

March 12, 2009 10:57 AM

This sounds great. I think that, eventually, our phones will be everything. There won't be any more laptops or desktops. It will all be thru our phones. So this is a great step at linking all the various phones together that we own. Then the next step is to enhance the phones so that they have a giant virtual display and keyboard.

J.

March 12, 2009 11:08 AM

nice article, well done summary of the services.

RS

March 12, 2009 11:32 AM

@Googleisterrible:
Go back into your cave already, you Luddite!
:-)

michael

March 12, 2009 11:35 AM

Steve - your phones still have their individual numbers, the Google Voice number is just a third number that will forward to those other numbers. So when you call out normally it will show your cell or home number and not your Google Voice number.

James

March 12, 2009 11:41 AM

I signed up for a GrandCentral Beta back in July of 2007 but never really used it. Almost 2 years later and there isn't much change, but I'll try it again.

Colin

March 12, 2009 12:12 PM

I've been using the GrandCentral beta since 2007 and have really enjoyed it. It works relatively well and I love the option to answer the home phone instead of the cell where I know service is terrible.

nhansen

March 12, 2009 12:21 PM

It's not available to everyone just yet - only to those who had a grandcentral account already. pfft.

Grant

March 12, 2009 12:41 PM

security? Ie. how are phone numbers attached to the GVn? How easy is it to attach numbers not your own for instance?

George

March 12, 2009 12:50 PM

I've been using GrandCentral for the last 2-yrs and love it. Vonage has similar "forwarding" services, but GC is easier to use and allows you to choose special services for each number. For example, calls from your boss can ring to one number, while calls from your wife can ring at all 3. For telemarketing, the "number has been disconnected" is just fun! The downside is that a telemarketer has to call you first, afterwhich you can block future calls.

Soch

March 12, 2009 01:54 PM

Is it possible to have your current Cell number be your GC number?

Rob Hof

March 12, 2009 01:57 PM

Soch: No, you have to choose a new number from a list provided by Google Voice. This is the main hurdle for this service, I think--the need to choose yet another number.

Nick

March 12, 2009 04:30 PM

To Moderator: please delete Mr. Robert Beaty's post in the #1 position. Someone logged in as him to make him look like an ignoramus. At least I HOPE that that is the case...

Vox Googli

March 12, 2009 07:42 PM

@Nick - consider that @RobertBeaty was being "ironic." ;)

toni

March 13, 2009 02:28 PM

Googleisterrible: Totaly agree with you.Why I have to sign in to do seach? From where google is earning money? Why everyhing is free?

Scott

March 13, 2009 03:46 PM

Unlimited calling from your cell???? To place outbound calls using your Google Voice number, you have to call your personal Google number first from your cell phone.

Many providers provide unlimited calling to up to 10 numbers (Verizon, Alltel, etc.).

So in theory, you could call your Google number first (for free if you have that number setup as one of your unlimited numbers to call) and then dial other numbers and talk all you want.

Anybody tried this?

yogendra kumar

March 22, 2009 12:43 AM

nice

Jerry

April 24, 2009 07:33 AM

i want to have a US number of my own to be ring to my local number when ever it is called though am a Nigerian.

larry haley {oldmanlarry}

May 4, 2009 07:21 PM

i want to have a US number of my own to be ring to my local number when ever it is called

John

May 18, 2009 02:25 PM

I think google is behind the times.New startups like www.bueno.com that provide you with a free USA number are already raking in on there site.I joined got me a USA number in NYC and i can receive my voicemails and emails all in one place all for free.No advertising no hassle.Grand Central to late no dice.

Thom

May 28, 2009 09:43 AM

I've been a lucky member of Grand Central from its first arrival on the internet. I have to say that I am waiting with great anticipation as to how google is going to handle the service.

Danny

May 31, 2009 09:05 AM

While we wait for google voice to become available to the public (not just existing Grand Central users), is there another similar fee call service available? Of course, I do not expect such service to have the same features. Thanks in advance!

Dorothy L. Breffeil

June 25, 2009 05:17 PM

Sounds great. How much does it cost and how does one sign up for this service?

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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