Yesterday Google made another fascinating move in the telephony space... letting people use Google Voice with their existing phone number. This is key because previously if you wanted to try out Google Voice you had to get a new phone number that was different from any of your existing numbers.
Now a business or individual can move their existing number over to Google Voice... and Google can try to convert users over to their service from other services.
[UPDATE: Note that Google states that you can use Google Voice "with your existing mobile phone number", i.e. not a landline phone number. Others have pointed out that essentially all you are doing is forwarding your unanswered calls to Google's voicemail service instead of your mobile carrier's voicemail service. In this way, Google Voice is basically just like Jott or any of the many other similar services out there. Except, of course, it is from Google.]
When you use an existing number, Google Voice gives you these services:
- Online, searchable voicemail
- Free automated voicemail transcription
- Custom voicemail greetings for different callers
- Email and SMS notifications
- Low-priced international calling
With a new phone number under Google's control, you get additional services like conferencing, call recording, call screening, etc. More significantly, you get what I consider the key feature of Google Voice:
One number that reaches you on all your phones
That's the value I get out of Google Voice. If you call me on +1-802-735-1624, it rings me on my mobile, on my desk phone, on Skype (via SkypeIn), on a SIP phone... and could on other phones as well. That "one number" service is not available for existing phone numbers... but only for new numbers Google controls.
Without that feature, Google Voice is essentially a hosted voicemail provider for your existing phone number.
Except, of course, it is free.
Free and part of the ever-growing suite of Google services.... and still in beta and still invitation-only... but yet, it is Google. It will be interesting to watch over time what disruption this new offering causes in the traditional hosted voicemail market.
Meanwhile, it's now out there and if you want to try Google Voice with an existing number, you can request an invitation or find someone with an existing GV account and ask them for one of their 3 invites. (Sorry, mine are all gone.)
UPDATE (10/30/09) - Also check out Dave Michel's post about the broader ramifications of this story.
P.S. You can also watch this video from Google: