How to use Google Voice without a phone

Until recently, there’s been one problem with using Google Voice to make and receive phone calls – you needed a phone to receive calls at.  And because Google Voice essentially makes outgoing calls into incoming calls as far as your phone plan is concerned, whether you were using a landline or cell phone, you pretty much needed one with unlimited incoming calls if you wanted to do any serious calling, such as phone banking, without running up a bill.  But even without running up a bill, you still needed a phone of some sort, and that meant at least $20 a month for most folks on a landline, or even more for a cell phone.

But not any more!

When Google integrated Google Voice with Gmail recently, they made it so you could make free outgoing calls from their free Gmail e-mail, without even signing up for a Google Voice account.  But you still needed a phone of some sort to answer when the call came in.  But, if you DO sign up for a Google Voice account there is a little known setting you can use to actually receive the call in Gmail – and have your conversation using your computer’s speakers and microphone.  Basically, this turns Gmail into a completely free softphone that lets you receive unlimited free incoming calls and make unlimited FREE calls to anywhere in the US or even Canada!  And you even get free text messaging!

So, for the average person, this means no more paying for phone service at all if you don’t want to!  If you’ve got high speed internet – you’ve got free phone service!

Gmail Incoming Call

Gmail Incoming Call

Here’s how to set it up, step by step:

  1. First you need a Google Voice account and a Gmail account.  Important: both accounts must use the same username and email address, so sign up for Gmail first and then use your Gmail account to sign up for Google Voice.
  2. Once both accounts are set up, log into Gmail and sign into chat.  I recommend just leaving chat signed on from then on.
  3. Make at least one outbound call from Gmail.  You could call your Mom.  I’m sure she’d love to hear from you!  Or you could order a pizza.  It doesn’t matter as long as you make one outgoing call from inside Gmail (not inside Google Voice, but after you’re set up for both) before you try to receive any in Gmail.
  4. Now go into your Google Voice account and navigate to the Settings link and then to Voice Settings.
  5. See that Phones tab?  Now just click the checkbox beside Google Chat (so there’s a check in the box).


Now you can both make and receive your calls on your computer, for free – no phone required at all!  And that means no phone bills at all!

Of course, ideally you’ll want to use a headset with a microphone for maximum comfort and sound quality going both ways, but if you don’t mind a speakerphone type conversation, most any computer with a mic and speakers will do.

And, if you combine this set up with Google’s Chrome Browser with the Google Voice Plugin setup I detailed previously, you can simply click phone numbers on web pages, and get the call in Gmail (which you can keep open in another browser tab).  Yes, even for phone banking – as long as the phone banking app lives in the browser and supports Chrome (nearly all do).  This can REALLY speed up the process, too since you can now do it all with the mouse.

Now, it’s important to mention here that high speed internet is a necessity with this setup.  Otherwise, such as when you’re using Google Voice with an actual physical phone, you can even use Google Voice with a slow dial-up connection.  Since the call is routed over the traditional PSTN or Cellular network to you over the last leg of it’s journey, it doesn’t matter how fast your internet connection is.  But if you’re using your computer as a phone, using Gmail or any other softphone, the speed and reliability of your connection is an important factor.  If you want a quality phone call without choppy sound that you can have from beginning to end without the call dropping, you need a good, robust internet connection – something DSL grade or faster – and on at least a “N” rated router if it’s wireless.

The good news here is that almost all high speed internet connections are at least this fast, and almost all wifi hotspots are based on a fast enough connection/router combination.  So, pretty much any “high speed” or “broadband” internet connection you can find should be plenty good enough to use for calling without a phone, just using your computer with Google Voice via Gmail.

My results are fantastic!  The sound quality I get on a good, high speed internet connection with my computer wired into the network, and using my headset, is superior to any other softphone or Voip solution I’ve ever used.  I really can’t tell the difference between Google Voice through Gmail and a regular call over the traditional phone network!  And for FREE!  Gotta love it!

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