Porting out of Google Voice

Getting your phone number back to your phone

For those who haven't used it before, Google Voice is a half 'voice over IP' and half 'number virtualiation'. When you connect your phone with Google Voice, it automatically logs your text messages, calls, and voicemails (including transcribing them to text messages or e-mails). The service also allows you to make cheaper international calls, and route calls to different, or multiple phones at once, among many other features. Google Voice has many features, a list too long to repeat here, and Google offers native Voice clients for Apple iPhone / iOS and Google Android devices.

By default, when you sign up with Google Voice, Google gives you a 'Voice Number', that compliments your other phones. The important part here is that many of the features only work if you use your Google Voice number as your main number. (Basically everything except Visual Voicemail requires your phone number on Google Voice). Since most people don't want to give out a new number to friends and family, they port their number into Google Voice to get these extra features.

Sprint subscribers can resolve much of this automatically, by using the native Google Voice to Sprint integration. This is what I did when I ported my number to Sprint, earlier this year. (Technically I ported to 'Google Voice', and enabled native Sprint integration). However, Sprint's data service quality in Michigan is notoriously slow and spotty at best, and other carriers (such as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and MetroPCS) do not offer Google Voice service natively.

And for non-native users, there are drawbacks to Google Voice. If you use your original phone number, then text messages outgoing from your phone do not show your Google Voice number, unless you specifically use the Google Voice app. (This also means your experience depends heavily on the quality of your Google Voice app. This isn't a problem on iPhone or Android devices, but can be tricky on WebOS or Windows Phone 7 devices, which have much poorer Google Voice applications). This also means you don't receive text messages unless you have a consistant data connection, or enable text forwarding, which then botches the sender phone number.

Porting Out

Since I'm usually on T-Mobile or AT&T, the Google Voice integration is more hassle than it's worth, and I decided to port away. And this is where I became nervous.

The internet is littered with many horror stories about porting away from Google Voice. Other Voice users recalled horror stories about having to wait 'up to 10 days', being unable to receive text messages from other Google Voice users, or being unable to use the Visual Voicemail service

I'm happy to report that, while this was likely true at the time, as of right now, porting out of Google Voice is relatively simple and pain free. I ported out about five days ago, and experienced none of the problems listed above. For others looking to do similar, here's one 'easy' way to port out:

  1. Enable your Google Voice account for porting out.
    Go to https://www.google.com/voice/unlock to 'unlock' your number to allow other carriers to take your phone number from Google.
  2. Get a line of service.
    If your worried about the process getting 'stuck' or failing (I certainly was) then head to T-Mobile. For about $15 - $30 dollars, they'll set you up with a SIM card with prepaid service.
  3. Have your service provider initiate the port out process
    When they ask, give them your Google Voice phone number, your Google Voice account number (which is the same as your 10 digit Google Voice number with no dashes or spaces), and your password (this is the PIN you enter to check your Google Voice voicemail). If you haven't set a PIN number on your voicemail, set one before porting out. (It's easier than explaining to the clerk that you 'have no password')
  4. Wait at least 24 hours, but no more than 48 hours
    Technically, this isn't necessary at all. The port out process happens much faster, but the employees at most places are 'trained' that it takes 24 hours, and in my experience, will not check on the port in status until it has sat around for 24 hours. Realistically, this happens in less than 2 hours (and often less than 30 minutes)
  5. Have your provider check the status of your transfer, and clear any holds or notices
    Google Voice transfers usually have some kind of 'notice' or 'exception' put on the transfer request. You just need them to clear this to continue. Ask the employee at the store to ask their office to clear these, if they can't do it on their own. (T-Mobile wasn't able to, they had to call it in)

That's it! About twenty minutes each day, for two days, and you've got your number back. Google should send you an e-mail notice that your number is gone, and you can now request a new Google Voice number on your account. You should also be able to re-add your old Google Voice number to your Google Voice account as a forwarding number, so it will work just as it did orignally, before porting your number in.