Google on Tuesday said that Google Voice, its online voicemail and telecommunications service, is now open to everyone in the U.S.
Launched in March 2009, Google Voice was previously available through invitation only. Google Voice product manager Vincent Paquet said that the time has come to let everyone try the service.
Google Voice already has over a million active users, a milestone reached in part due to Google's decision last month to offer Google Voice to any student with an .edu e-mail address.
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Google Voice provides users with a new phone number that, when dialed, will ring multiple other phone numbers -- a mobile number, an office number, and a home number, for example -- to complete the call. It also provides settings that allow call routing to be limited at certain times of the day.
Paquet said the Google Voice team is working on a way to port existing phone numbers to Google Voice, though that capability isn't ready yet.
Because not everyone wants a new phone number to deal with, Google Voice can be used just for online voicemail, without the call routing capabilities. But Paquet said he's been pleasantly surprised to discover "that most people want the Google Voice number."
Google Voice also provides online voicemail with speech-to-text transcription, to make voicemail messages searchable and more easily stored.
Other features include low-rate international calling, personalized greeting messages, the ability to forward SMS messages to an e-mail account, call blocking and screening, conference calling, and mobile apps.
Last summer, Apple refused to approve Google's Google Voice app for the iPhone, an incident that prompted a Federal Communications Commission inquiry that remains ongoing. Apple's business practices, specifically its developer and advertising rules, are also being examined by the Federal Trade Commission for possible antitrust implications.
Google responded by releasing a Google Voice Web app that provides much of the functionality of its downloadable mobile app, which is available for Android and Blackberry devices.
"The Web client for the iPhone is pretty impressive," said Paquet. "We certainly feel like HTML5 will allow more and more users to access the service on the go."
Google clearly has plans to expand the capabilities of Google Voice, having made a series of acquisitions related to telecommunications and video services. Last month, it acquired Global IP Solutions (GIPS), a provider of voice and video IP communication technology. It also purchased Episodic, an online video platform, in April, and Gizmo5, a maker of VoIP software, in November last year.
Paquet said he didn't have any news to announce about new features, but stay tuned.