Google Voice is great, but it isn't an entirely free voice-over-internet service if you have to pay a phone bill to use it. With a few tweaks, though, you can make completely free internet phone calls with Google Voice. Here's how.
Note: Gizmo5's desktop software once offered great free VoIP calling through Google Voice.
So great, in fact, that Google bought the maker, closed sign-ups, and now sits on it.
Here's the new, up-to-date, and completely free way to make free internet calls with Google Voice.
When you've got Sipgate set up as one of your Google Voice numbers, you can,
basically make and receive calls from your computer as if it were just a large and awkwardly designed cellphone.
You can still pick up calls to your main number on your cellphone or other lines, or just pick it up on your laptop or desktop, with a good headset or just your built-in mic and speakers.
You'll save yourself cellular minutes, possibly experience better call quality, and record calls with ease.
Not quite sure what Google Voice does, or why you'd want it?
We've been there ourselves.
Skim through our takes on whether you'd actually need Google Voice,
how to ease your transition to Google Voice, or simply skim through
Google's comprehensive video guide, the introduction to which is below:
When you're done setting up a free VoIP service through Google Voice, you'll be able to pull off the same kind of free calling from your desktop as you could once do with Gizmo5—but with Gizmo5 closed to sign-ups at the moment, and no word from Google on future digital calling, this is the cheap and easy way to go, for the time being.
What You'll Need
- Google Voice account: Google Voice is a free service that, as of June 22nd (today if you're reading this when it published), is available for everyone in the U.S. and Canada. All you need to use it is your Google account, so head to the Google Voice homepage and sign on in to get started (if you haven't already).
- Sipgate account & phone number: Both are free—even the real phone number that folks can call you on all they want. Sipgate has many neat services to recommend it beyond its free Sipgate One service-with some cheap hardware, you could set up what amounts to a very cheap digital phone network, in your house or with a small telecommuting team.
- For now, though, we're just going to hook up a Sipgate One phone account and number up to Google Voice.
- Audio tools for computer calls: You can make and take phone calls using your laptop's microphone and speakers, but if you're going to be talking regularly, you'll probably want to upgrade to a decent USB headset with microphone.
- Cellphone with text messaging: Just for a verification code that Sipgate sends. You won't need the cellphone to actually use your free VoIP setup.
Step 1: Set Up SipgateSetting up a Sipgate account is a pretty familiar process, and less intensive then, say, Google Voice.
Here's the abbreviated walkthrough:
Head to the Sipgate One site and click the "Sign up now" button.
You'll be asked to provide your cellphone number and carrier,
then get a text message with a short verification code.
After filling it in, you'll be asked to provide some information: name, address, email, and a password.
The email must be real and used, because you'll use it to verify your account further.
The address, if you don't love the idea of giving it away,
can be relative—it's used primarily to pin down your location and figure out which area codes
About those area codes—Sipgate doesn't offer all of them.
In fact, in upstate New York, Sipgate only offered 518 and 845, and after selecting 518,
it turns out Sipgate plum ran out.
I had to pretend like I lived in San Diego (good people live there!) to pin down a number,
but since this is a software phone and I'm connecting through my proper Google Voice number
it didn't really matter to me. Your mileage may vary, but your friends and contacts are only calling your Google Voice number, which then rings you on your computer,
so the actual number doesn't matter all that much.
Once you've picked out and confirmed your number,
you'll be asked to download and install the software.
I'd recommend just downloading, but not yet installing and launching the Sipgate desktop software.
Respond to your email activation message, and keep moving through the setup process.
You'll eventually arrive at a screen where you'll have to pin down an exact address,
for what I've reasoned is the inclusion of E-911 data with the phone number Sipgate is issuing you.
Depending on the area you're trying to obtain a phone number in, you may end up with a failure message indicating that there are no numbers available for the address and area code you picked out.
This is how I ended up virtually moving to San Diego.
Be sure to pick out the options indicated for a free, single number,
so that your sign-up form looks akin to this:
Head into your Sipgate settings by signing in (upper right corner) at Sipgate.com,
then clicking "Settings" in the upper-right corner.
In the default "Phone" section, you'll likely see the cellphone you provided as linked to your account.
Mouse over that cellphone, and select either "Delete device" (which most of us can safely do),
or "Deactivate" (if you think you might pull off some fancy VoIP-to-cell tricks in the future).
Either way, you want "Phone of (Your Name)" to be the primary call taker,
since that's your Sipgate number.
If Sipgate bugs you to set up routing to your phone, go ahead and click the link to do so.
Your Sipgate routing setup should, in the end, be very simple—one phone number rings
one (virtual) phone.
There's one last area to address inside Sipgate, because the service tends to capture its incoming calls
with its own voicemail system, rather than letting Google Voice pick up the unanswered call.
Head into Sipgate's voicemail, call forwarding and hunting rules.
To put it simply, you're going to clear out everything—any forwarding rules,
the basic voicemail condition, all of it.
When you're done, this settings area should look like the example at left,
with Sipgate indicating "You have not set up voicemail or call forwarding"
for either your number or your account.
Once that's done, you could log into your Sipgate software and test it out by calling
your new number from a cellphone or landline, but you don't need to—we're going to have
Google Voice call you anyways, to connect your number.
Step 2: Connecting to Google Voice
Head to your Google Voice "Phones" settings and click the "Add another phone" link
at the bottom of your list. Enter a name (maybe "Sipgate") and the phone number Sipgate
assigned you, with area code, along with picking a phone type ("Home" or "Work" should play)
and un-checking the "Receive text messages" option, then hit "Save."
Google Voice will now ask to call that number and have you punch in a two-digit code
to verify it's yours.
Make sure your Sipgate software is running, and that you're signed in, and then go ahead
and authorize Google Voice to call. When the call comes through, switch over to the "Dialpad"
tab on your Sipgate window, type in the code provided at the Google Voice site,
and you'll hear Voice congratulate you on hooking the two together.
You can now head back to your Phones settings at Google Voice, choose Advanced Settings,
and detail exactly when your Sipgate number should ring.
Step 3: Using Sipgate from Your Computer
On both Windows and Mac, Sipgate's software is fairly minimalist—if you're used to Skype's
mannerisms, it'll seem nearly invisible. It's a rectangular box with just four tabs,
and its main purpose is to sit there and wait for you to dial a number or receive a call.
That's fine for accepting calls—when you want to make a call, you're going to use
Google Voice tools.
Sipgate gives you 60 free outbound call minutes with your phone number,
but you don't really need to use them. Google Voice is a pretty ubiquitous service,
at least where internet service is available. From a laptop or desktop,
you can use a few tools to place an outgoing call—which will technically call you
on your Sipgate number, then connect the call when you pick up.
- Browser extensions: Google has an official Chrome extension that's pretty nifty, and Chad Smith regularly patches up an unofficial, experimental Firefox add-on that offers similar capabilities: click-to-call, call logs, SMS, and the like.
- Google Voice web site: Keep it open in a tab, or maybe as a stand-alone browser app, and learn the basic shortcuts—specifically, "c" to make a call. There are, of course, many others to master.
- Desktop tools: In addition to the single-site browser tools we've detailed that would work great with Google Voice, a few tools have been put together to tuck Google Voice calling onto your taskbar or system tray: Google Voice for Adobe AIR (all platforms), and Voice Mac (Mac only).
One final note on a little side-benefit of Sipgate—the software can natively record calls.
Google Voice can record calls, too—but only on an incoming call, and you have to pull up
the dialpad and press "4." Sipgate's desktop software simply records your call and offers
it up as an MP3 when you're done.
Like Google Voice, Sipgate will make a very obvious announcement that it's recording
the call, to comply with the many different call-recording laws, but it's a pretty nice feature
on the whole.
Big thanks go to reader Justin, who originally came across the Sipgate/Voice combo
and blogged about it, along with tipping us.
Got your Google Voice/Sipgate setup running and digging it so far?
Having a problem, missing a feature from Gizmo5, or have another tip for a better free phone life?
Tell us your take in the comments.
Send an email to Kevin Purdy, the author of this post, at email@example.com.