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Sunday, February 25, 2024

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Google Voice + Gmail = Free Voice Calls For Those In US

Google’s holding a small press gathering today at 9:30am in its San Francisco offices. Topic? The ability to place phone calls using Google Voice integrated within Gmail. Anyone with a US Gmail account will get this rolling out today and over the next few days, along with the ability to make free calls to numbers in the US and Canada. Here’s the live blogging.

We’re going. There’s a British phone box that says Google Voice on it. Gonna be related to those Gmail & Google Voice news rumor that broke today.

New features that Todd Jackson is telling us about. Gmail related, and some history.

Way back, Google Chat introduced to let people doing IM in the browser. In 2008, added way to do voice and video chat, for free.

Now Google Voice mentioned, and Vincent Paquet is up.

A year ago, Voice rolled out, number tied to you rather than device. Number you can use to ring multple phones.

Does voice mail, does transcriptions of that, integration with phone, apps for BlackBerry, Android and a pseudo-app for iPhone [in the browser, because Apple’s still taking over a year to decide on approving the Google Voice app].

Now more changes, and here’s Craig Walker. Wouldn’t it be great if you could do Voice in Gmail. Yes, now you can make phone calls from Gmail (as News.com reported would be announced today).

Fully integrated with your Gmail address book. Starting today, ther will be a call/dialer option for all Gmail users.

Great for those with terrible cell coverage, if you don’t have a landline. Now can place calls this way.

Prices they offer are super competitive, he says. How’s it work. Let’s say he’s about to fly to Paris. He clicks on call phone, calls travel agent. Hey, there’s Tina from Tina’s World Wide Travel answering the call. I suspect it’s not really Tina, but they’re talking. Call sounds clear. She says she’ll work on the room he wanted.

Says convenient and easy as she was in his address book. And the voice quality was good, with standard mike on the device. You have to have good echo cancellation, as their engineers have, he says.

Oh, Google’s got a blog post up on this now. Here’s a screenshot of the interface from that:

Now we’re calling France, and speaking French. Well, he’s got someone who does speak French helping. And two cents per minute to call France.

How about receiving calls. Oh, he’s getting a call. It rings on both his devices. But there’s a screen button. It’s Tina calling, and he’s listening to her talk like you would on an answering machine (you remember those, right?). He decides to pick up.

He tells Tina no thanks, don’t need the room. Now she’s being hostile with him. We’re having fun banter, so that he can mute her.

Back to calls. Screen, answer or ignore.

How to price this. Looked at cell pone plans, cost per month and minutes, that was like 5 cents a minute, seemed too much. Looked at other options, 2 cents per minutes. Still too much. So making calls to the US and Canada for free.

International calls very cheap. Now he’s talking about the red UK phone box in the room:

These will be place in airports and elsewhere so people can play and make free calls.

And that’s the conference. Q&A about to begin.

How many boxes? No set number.

US or worldwide. Just those in the US.

All calls end up in your contact database?

Yes [which gives Google some nice lockin, by the way — take your contacts anywhere, to any device].

Will credits for non-free calls expired? If you don’t use account for a year, reserve right to expire them.

How many Google Voice users? “We don’t talk about the numbers.”

You have 100s of millions of users on Gmail? More specific numbers? We don’t give those.

Are Google Voice numbers considered mobile or landline? Many plans have free mobile to mobile, so would this count? No. Most of those plans are within network.

When does Google Voice get number porting? And blog post that suggest calls might not be free after end of year? Possible, but if people are using it much, should be fine. As for porting, letting you say take your mobile number over to Google Voice, they’re working on that “aggressively”

Where’s the revenue on this? Revenue comes off the international calls.

How about ads? Google Voice has no ads now, goal is to monetize it off international and enough margin to make things off of that.

This is designed for consumers you said, not businesses. Not ready for them yet? No, definitely not Google business ready.

What if you don’t have Google Voice? What number shows? A generic one they don’t recall off top of the head.

When to roll out elsewhere? Will work on localized versions in future.

What exactly do you call this? Voice calls in Gmail.

What’s the hold up on porting? It’s a complicated issue. To make it a very smooth process, which is our goal, and you don’t want a nightmare support issue of people losing numbers. To do it right takes a lot of time, and that’s all there is to it … even today with mobile operate, to port takes someone on the phone for 10-15 minutes, Google wants better than that.

What’s up with the Google Voice app for Apple still not being approved? Has Apple formally denied it? FCC looked into the issue, everyone responded with letters, and not much has happened since then.

Question on landline calls being cheaper than mobile internations. Looking at charge. Google voice is 18 cents per minute to landline in the UK, 25 cents to mobiles there. Hmm, that’s expensive.

Could I call from my potential future Google profile that is rumored to come? Today there is no integration with existing profiles.

I’m asking why the cost is so expensive say compared to IDT’s calling cards, 10 cents to the UK regardless of landline or mobile (see here). I’m being told there’s like a 49 cent connection fee. I reply well no, there’s not. Then I was told that well, these companies come in and out of business all the time, the quality is poor and so on.

Um, no. Like really no. I’ve used IDT for over a decade to call to and from the UK. That’s over a decade, same company. It’s cheap. It works. If I call from a registered phone, I don’t need to enter a huge pin code. Frankly, there’s no way I’d use Google Voice to make UK calls at these rates. I did check, and there is a $1.50 per month account fee. So that should be factored in, if you’re not doing a lot of calling.

I’ve also got a Skype account that gives me unlimited calls for $143 per year worldwide, Unlimited World (info here). I use it mostly for the UK. Hey, the call quality is often really bad. And you get dinged if you call the UK’s “non-geographical” numbers or mobiles. Still, that’s worldwide for a pretty low price.

I’m a real junkie for getting the best calling plans, however. Those who are comparing Google Voice to the high rates their usual provider gives might feel like it’s a big savings. And Google argues it’s simple, which from the demo does seem true.

By the way, tip for those feeling denied outside the US. Set your Gmail account to US English. Surprise, you now have a US Gmail account that should get this new feature. Enjoy your free US/Canada calls.

And that’s the press conference. Also see the Google blog post and related coverage on Techmeme.

Postscript: Also see Inside The Google Voice Phone Booths for videos and pics and how the booths work.

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