How to Make Free Calls Over the Internet (3G/4G or WiFi) on Android2
Do you live in an area or spend time in a building that has poor cellular service? Do you have a small number of minutes for your monthly plan? Do you like cool tricks that may have no practical purpose for you? Then you may be interested in what you are about to read!
In my recent State of the Apps post, I listed Google Voice as the best application from the Communication category in reference to its Internet-based text messaging, call forwarding, and voicemail transcription, archive, and search capabilities. With such a long list of features, you would think Voice has nothing more to offer than what it already does. On the contrary, using Voice in conjunction with another app and after a few settings tweaks offers you access to one more useful feature: the ability to place and receive calls over the Internet for free using your Google Voice number. Cool! But why would I want to do that?
Just to give you an example of one of the aforementioned scenarios, I work in a building that has little to no cellular connection, meaning I cannot place or receive calls or even establish a mobile data connection. I do have access to WiFi, however, which provides me with a decent Internet connection over which I can still place and receive calls and send and receive text messages. So what do you need to do? I recommend trying the process as I outline it below. I will explain how to take advantage of this Internet calling feature as well as how to use the built-in functionality of the Google Voice app for text messaging and voicemail. Soon you will have a device that no longer requires a connection to cellular networks, which is a boon for those old, unactivated devices you have lying around or even tablets!
Disclaimer: Sending and receiving text messages via Google Voice and placing and receiving calls via apps that that work with the Google Voice service is free, except for international calls (for which minutes can be purchased through Google Voice at a reasonable rate). However, if you use either of these services via the mobile data (3G/4G) connection associated with your phone plan, then they will count toward your monthly data allowance, which, if exceeded, could result in extra charges to your account. Monitor your data usage as you would with any other Internet-based apps or services.
Before you download the app, you need to sign up for the Voice service itself, which involves signing up for a Google account if you do not already have one (which you should if you have an Android device) or activating it on your existing Google account. When you do, you will choose a Google Voice number, which is the alternative number on which you will send and receive text messages and place and receive calls.
2. Once you do, you will move onto the following screen:
3. For our purposes, we want to select “I want a new number”.
4. After that, you are prompted to enter your existing phone number, more than likely the mobile number associated with the device to which you wish to have your calls forwarded. I could not proceed beyond this point because you cannot enter a number associated with an existing Google Voice account without having that number then removed for use on the new account. From what I remember though, you will be prompted to select a number in your area and that should about do it. If not, a “Get a Voice number” link appears on the left-hand side of the screen. If you have any questions about completing the rest of the sign-up process, then please let me know in the comments and I will assist you.
5. The next step is downloading the Google Voice app on your device. Once you do, sign in to the app with the same account you just used to create your Voice number. The app will walk you through several steps to complete the setup of the service, starting with the following screen:
6. The opening screen welcomes you to Google Voice, explaining how it replaces the voicemail service from your carrier. Select “Next” to continue the process.
7. On this screen, select the Google account you want to use with Voice and select “Sign in”.
8. Next you need to decide which calls to place with Google Voice. This dictates whether the calls you place using the standard call function on your phone come from your carrier number or your Voice number. I typically choose “Do not use Google Voice to make any calls” because I started using Voice after I already gave everyone my carrier number. But if you are starting fresh and giving everyone your Voice number, you can select the first option so everyone sees that number instead of your carrier one.
9. Now you need to configure the voicemail settings. Note that even though the app may say your carrier does not support the voicemail feature (as mine does every time I set up the app), you actually can; despite the warning of incompatibility with the service, Voice still receives your voicemails regardless, and it transcribes them too! Select “Configure”.
10. Doing so should open up your “Call Settings” or something similar. You should see a “Voicemail” option or again something similar. Select it.
11. Select the “Service” option.
12. Switch over from “My carrier” to “Google Voice”. Now select the back button until you return to the Google Voice app setup.
13. Once the setup is complete and you select “Finish” on the final screen of the process, you will arrive at the default screen for the app. In this view, you will see any text messages sent to you on your Voice number and any voicemails left for you on either your carrier or Voice number. To send a text message yourself, select the icon in the bottom, left-hand corner. It’s just like sending a regular text message, but for free!
14. After completing the app setup, we now need to adjust some settings in the desktop interface for Voice, so switch back over to your computer and open the settings section.
15. “Phones”, the first tab under Settings, is the one with which we are most concerned. Ensure that the checkboxes next to both the carrier number associated with your phone and Google Chat are selected (I highlighted the boxes with a red border); this will allow Voice to forward calls to your Voice number to your phone. You can also play around with the other settings under “Voicemail and Text”, where you set up your voicemail greeting, and “Calls” to modify how you receive notifications, etc. Almost done!
Now that we can receive calls on our Google Voice number, we need to implement an additional way to place calls from that number. Remember that the Google Voice app already allows us to place calls from our Voice number using the built-in call functionality of our phone; but the point of this post is to have a way to place and receive calls over the Internet!
Thankfully this part is quite simple. All you need to do is download and install what is called a Voice over Internet Protocol (or VoIP) app compatible with Google Voice. I have been using the paid version of GrooVe IP (though a free lite version is available too). GrooVe IP allows you to sign in with your Google Voice account, thereby giving you access to all of your contacts right in the app, and place and receive calls using your Google Voice over the Internet, whether it be your 3 or 4G connection or a WiFi connection. The quality of the call is largely dependent upon the speed and reliability of your connection, but for a feature you may need only in a pinch or in a scenario like I described at the outset of the post where a building or other structure interferes with cellular service, GrooVe IP is quite capable and comes highly recommended among users who have a similar setup.
And that concludes this admittedly complex lesson on how to place and receive calls over the Internet. If you have any questions or need any assistance whatsoever, then please let me know in the comments. And as always, if you have any other categories you would like us to tackle, any apps you would like us to review, or any lessons about Android you would like to learn, then please let us know about those in the comments too. Thank you for reading!