Mobile phone service has never been regarded as a service that comes cheap. Voice calling, text messaging and data are generally billed as separate services, and each is considered relatively expensive. Thus, in normal penny-pinching fashion, wireless customers have sought cheaper (in some cases free) services to replace expensive mobile service.
While it's not possible to completely replace your entire package for something comparable and substantially cheaper without switching to a pre-paid provider and likely taking a hit on service quality, it is possible to replace individual services like text messaging with instant messaging or voice calling with a VoIP service. If there's a will, there is a way to lighten that monthly bill.
In 2009, Google launched their alternative telecommunications service, Google Voice, in a private, invite-only beta. Immediately, a large number of those who were invited to the beta (including myself) fell in love with the service. In September of that year, it was opened to the public.
For those of you who don't know, Google Voice allows you to place and receive calls from a PC via VoIP (also via phone using your existing calling plan), records voicemails and transcribes them to text, allows you to call forward from your Google Voice number to other phones, send and receive text messages without a text messaging plan and more. So long as you have an existing calling plan on your phone, you can place calls from your mobile device using your Google Voice number instead of your carrier-assigned number.
What I'm curious about, however, is how many of you are using Google Voice. How many of you have switched to Google Voice, primarily for voicemail? Text messaging? Voice calling?
I've been using Google Voice since the week it was launched in private beta. Back then, I really didn't use it for much. I set my several numbers up for call forwarding and really didn't do anything with it for a while.
It wasn't until I switched primarily to Android in 2010 that I completely replaced archaic carrier voicemail and exclusively began using Google Voice for all voicemail. Let's be honest, the old carrier-provided voicemail is outdated. There is nothing more annoying than having to call an automated system to listen to voicemails. Google Voice gives you a Gmail-like interface for maintaining and listening to all of your voicemail. You can also download messages and forward them. On top of that, if you can't listen to a voicemail, for whatever reason, you can try to rely on their transcribing service, which translates voice to text. In my experience, however, it's a hit or miss.
Although I do no use my Google Voice number for making calls very often, I use it in a few specific scenarios. For instance, when I'm giving my number to someone I don't know very well, I will give them my Google Voice number. Or if I'm giving a number to someone I don't care to talk to later, they won't get my primary number, but one I give out more selectively instead. Likewise, if someone really needs to get in touch with me, I will give them my Google Voice number so that both of my phones will ring if and when they call.
An advantage to using your Google Voice number over, say, your issued number from the wireless provider is the ability to screen your calls, much like you can with a landline and an answering machine. With basic carrier service, you have two options when someone calls you: you can answer or ignore and send the caller straight to voicemail. With Google Voice, however, you can send the caller to voicemail and listen in to what they are saying, and you can pick up at any time.
I also use Google Voice for text messaging from time to time. I would like to fully make the switch at some point and exclusively use Google Voice for texting. However, it's a bit difficult as I have already confused most of the people I talk to by giving them more than one number to text. Adding yet another number to the mix would only cloud things up more, and they would inevitably text message the wrong number. At some point in the future, though, I plan on consolidating everything to Google Voice.
In short, Google Voice makes it easy to manage having more than one phone. Call forwarding is an irreplaceable feature, and so is call screening. Not to mention, if you use Google Voice for text messaging, you can text with the same number from two different phones, making it easier to carry on a conversation if one phone dies or if the other doesn't have coverage. (Then again, you will ultimately get dual-notifications for every message received.)
While I haven't fully made the switch or optimized Google Voice to do what it does best, I have plans to use it more actively down the road. Tell me, readers. Do any of you use Google Voice? What do you use it for? Voicemail? Calling? Text messaging? All of the above? Sound off below and tell us how Google Voice works best for you!