A warning shot across the bow of old-school landline telephone service sounds something like this:
“We’re continually testing new features to enhance the user experience. For a limited amount of time, we’re making the Google Voice number porting process available to users. We don’t have any additional details to share at this time, but plan to offer this feature to all users in the near future.”
That’s the quote sent from a Google representative to Engadget after one of the site’s readers noticed the long-awaited ability to port an existing phone number to Google Voice.
In a nutshell, Google Voice acts as a kind of online switchboard you can use to manage a free phone number (see more details here).
I have a Google Voice number, for instance, that I give out to just about everyone and any time someone calls it, it’ll ring my cell phone, my home phone, my Skype number and any other phone I associate with my account.
I can also make and receive calls directly from inside Gmail on my computer and integrate my Google Voice number into any Android, iPhone or BlackBerry handset, enabling free text messaging as a bonus.
With my Google Voice number now acting as my main phone number, it’d be nice to transfer old phone numbers into the service instead of paying monthly fees just for the random calls I get from people who don’t have my Google Voice number. That’s where this number porting feature comes in.
The feature isn’t yet available to all Google Voice users (I don’t have access to it in my account) but it’ll carry a one-time $20 transfer fee when it rolls out. That’s a small price to pay considering other number porting services all seem to carry some sort of indefinite monthly charge.
And one of the big shortcomings to the upcoming number porting feature is that it’ll only work for mobile phones at first. That’s all well and good if you’re considering getting rid of your cell phone for some reason. Otherwise, you might as well just switch carriers and port your old number to a new phone.
The killer use for this number porting will come if and when you’re able to port landline numbers over. This screenshot from TNW says “Please note: at this time, number porting to Google Voice is not available for land line numbers or corporate mobile numbers,” but here’s to hoping that the “at this time” part means the ability to transfer landline numbers will eventually surface.
I think of my parents shelling out $30 per month to the phone company just to hold on to the phone number our family’s had since the Nixon administration. I’ve seen them answer the house phone when it rings but I can’t remember the last time I saw them initiate a call on anything but a cell phone. A one-time $20 payment would flip that old, worn out number into Google Voice and forward its calls to their cell phones forever.
The challenge for Google as it pertains to porting landline numbers, according to Fortune, is that “E-911 services aren’t yet mature… and Google took some heat last year for not connecting to all rural carriers because of the high fees they charge.”
Google’s apparently working on the E-911 bit, but I’d also expect landline providers to fight tooth and nail against the kind of massive disruption to their business models that a simple $20 porting fee would bring about. And from Google, no less! You know, the company that’s trying to brutally kill off every other company that refuses to live in the 21st century. That Google.
Landlines won’t die off any time soon but for anyone who uses a cell phone for everything yet keeps a landline number just because it’s too complicated to try and figure out which of the hundreds of VoIP services cost the least per month (and won’t go under in the foreseeable future), the ability to port an old number to Google for a one-time fee could prove mighty tempting.
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