Google Voice Number Portability Has a Unique Challenge


3147798491-googlevoice_03Now that I have two phones for the first time in my life, I’m itching to heavily rely on Google Voice (s GOOG). But as I said when Google Voice first opened its doors to Grand Central members, the missing number porting is holding me back. You actually can port a Google Voice number, but only from the service, not to the service. Therein lies my issue, as I have one main number and now one secondary number with my recent Palm Pre (s PALM) purchase. Far too many people have my main number for me to change it now.

We’ve heard that number porting to Google Voice is coming soon. While we’re waiting, I’ve been thinking about why we’re waiting. I’m sure there are some FCC hurdles here in the U.S., other legalities that I’m not privy to and some technical challenges as well. But there’s one unique aspect to number portability that just hit me: Google might have to convince carriers to give customers another phone number.

Let’s use my situation to explain that. I have my main number on AT&T (s T) with my iPhone (s AAPL). I’ve had that number since I first became a Verizon Wireless (s VZ) customer around the turn of the century. I later ported it to AT&T and it’s the number I want to use as my Google Voice number. That’s an ideal scenario since there’s no transition to the hundreds, maybe even a thousand people, that have my main number. So what happens to my AT&T iPhone when it loses the number? Obviously, AT&T is going to have to provide me a new number; one that I really won’t even use, other than to include it in my Google Voice settings.

We’ve had number portability for a few years now. But when we’ve exercised that right up to now, we’ve generally left a carrier or device behind. That’s not the case with portability and Google Voice. As I mentioned, there are likely several roadblocks for Google to overcome here. Regardless of the reason, I personally can’t wait for it to happen. Forwarding calls from one phone to another works great, but you have to remember to configure it each time you swap handsets.



Phone companies don’t WANT to let you move your number to Google since they will lose billions of dollars in calling plans by allowing it. I don’t really get the point though as you can use Google Voice to take over your voicemail from your previous carrier and then configure it so the other numbers ring before going to voicemail. It might be worth trying to port your number away from Google, then waiting the legal recycling time and see if you can configure Google with your old number.


I’ve had some experience with phone numbers being used as account/billing numbers. I’ve managed PBXs for several years, ranging from 50 to 9,000 extensions per system.

Most of the trunking I’ve done to the PSTN has been on T1 PRI circuits. In many cases, when upgrading the trunks at a small site, I would want to port the main phone number for a given site (which is already established for several years in the phone book, 411 & corporate promotional materials) away from a T1 circuit & have it ported to a different carrier or forward to a newer number. 9 times out of 10, the site’s main number was the BTN (Billing Telephone Number) for that circuit/trunk. Meaning that number was used as a reference all throughout the carrier’s billing system & also in several instances in the actual config of the trunk in the carrier’s CO switch.

Just breaking that number out of a trunk and either porting it or turning it into a remote call forward would require the local carrier to rebuild the entire trunk, taking anywhere from 5 to 10 days to process the order & also causing a few hours of no service while the trunk is being reconfigured. The months that follow would result in billing issues because the old number is still stuck in their billing system & is still posting a monthly charge alongside the new BTN that the carrier established for the trunk.

The two are tied together in many instances. Cleanest way to port your number would be to port to Google Voice (whenever they offer it), let you old cell die as the previous carrier closes the account when the port is complete, then open a whole new account for your existing cell phone with the wireless carrier.


I used to work for Verizon and although I can’t speak for the account side of things, I can tell you that on the network side, customers are not identified by their phone number, but rather their MSID… If you originated your service with Verizon (meaning you didn’t port another number in or change your number for any reason), then your MSID is most likely the same as your phone number, but they don’t have to be the same… something to think about

Chris Cooper

Getting back to the original problem of porting while still under contract, I was wondering if this would work: 1)Sign up for an additional number under family plan without getting new phone. 2)Ask AT&T to transfer remaining contract to new number. 3)Port old number to google voice. Would that work?

Chris Cooper

If I am correct, that should leave you with a new number, the old number ported to GV, and no new 2year contract.


Number portability doesn’t require an account to close. I’ve ported numbers and the previous carrier just assigns a new number to the old device.

Bill H

I too have ported numbers out and had new numbers issued to the same service.

The carrier (in this case I think it was TMO?) was more than happy to do so, because they kept a customer where they usually loose one.

Michelle Garvin

3jam is similiar to Google Voice, how do they solve the problem of the account being closed when the phone number is ported away?


Several months ago I had my personal phone with Sprint, my wifes phone also with Sprint, and a business phone with MetroPCS. I wanted an iPhone for my personal phone, which required moving to ATT. But I HATED Metro PCS… So I wanted to keep my numbers the same but move the lines around. Therefore the trickery happens!

I was advised by Sprint that when I port my phone number to ATT, my Sprint line would automatically close (my account would remain open because my wife was still on it, but that line would cease along with its contract start date-expired), but since I was prequalified for 2 lines already, that I could open a new line with Sprint (back up to 2 accounts, my business and wife) and port the MetroPCS phone number to Sprint. Sprint was obviously better than Metro as far as quality was concerned, hence the reason for the wanted change.

Anyways, I battled with Sprint about this saying that I did not want to lock into a new contract with a new line as they indicated I would have to do. I told them “my contract with my existing line is done, its up….. I could cancel now and not port a new one in at no penalty and your loss…” After an hour of debate they finally gave in telling me that after my line is closed from ATT porting my number out, they would open a new line and use the existing contract date, that it was extremely rare they would do this, and its my lucky day. They even tried the “what can we do to keep you as a customer” pitch… I told them “that’s what I’m trying to do- you’re making it difficult…”

Anyways, all in all, at least with Sprint you can fight to the bitter end to retain your contract status if and when Google allows porting in, and seemingly will have no differences on your account overall—I don’t know about ATT or Verizon which is your case.

Additionally, if you only have 1 line on your account, at least I have done this back in 2004. (again with Sprint) I was not thrilled with the price of one of my bills. So I threatened to cancel my line. Rep said OK.. So I did it. Oops. I didn’t really want to! lol Anyways, I called back a day or 2 later and explained that somehow it got canceled, maybe a miss communication, and I need it back. They gladly reinstated my account and put the same contract start date back on the account. So, in case when you port out, you can say you didn’t know it would close your entire account, maybe they will just bring it back online for you with a new number??


I have already done this using Vitelity communications. I ported my number to them and setup a forward to my GV number. Vitelity is dirt cheap and once Google starts porting in numbers it will be a quick port (Vitelity uses Level3) and Vitelity says they will refund any remaining balance in the account.


Why would something that is an end user issue (what a customer must do to save his account), have anything to do with Google Voice delaying porting in? It’s not Google’s problem. If someone wants to port their wireless number to Google Voice but get another wireless number, I would think calling the wireless carrier and telling them what you plan to do may help. All Google Voice needs to do is remind customers a port out may cancel their service and result in early cancellation fees. I’m waiting for Google Voice to allow porting in so I can transfer a number I’m saving on a VOIP service I no longer need, so I have none of these issues.


Has anyone considered that this may be a step toward a true MVNO for Google?

Larry R

I want to port my home number to Google Voice. Yes, you are right, if you port you number and call from a new home number, the caller ID will list the new number. I Don’t care. It they call direct, so be it but I think I can explain it to most of my contacts when they question the new number. I think if you expain the “One Number Concept” and that calling the “Real” number directly has less of a chance to get in touch then the Google Voice number. It also potentually will require one to dial the additional numbers if no answer.

The issue I have is my wife doesn’t want to give up our Phone Number as it is unlisted and have had it for years. People we only speak with once in a while have it. I would prefer that people call me on the Google Voice number so I can use its features but I just want to drop my Land Line expense and use Magicjack as a Landline.

I hear rumors that Google Voice is working on Apps that will get around the “People seeing the Actual Number”. You can also dial your Google Voice number and then dial the number and it will show your Google Voice number. Kind of a pain but if is really is important to you, this is a current option. I am also sure that you can program the phone book in your home phones to do this your you automatically.

Google, help me save my $60 month by allowing me to port my home phone to you


Kevin – it is all good when you port your number to GV. However from then onwards, all calls you make from your cell phone will show up on your contacts phone with the new number – right? Isn’t that going to be more confusing to them. That is the problem I currently have. When I make an outgoing call now using GV, folks ask me if I changed my number and if they should update their address book. I hate having to go thru’ the whole explanation. Interested in knowing what would be your solution to this?


The issue I have with Google Voice is there can’t be multiple extensions associated with the account so for a small business there is no option for pick ext. 1 for Joe, 2 for Amy, 3 for John, etc. There are two of us at my office and we need our own voicemails. We could get individual GV accounts but then we need to give out two numbers to clients, which pretty much defeats the point of it.

I’m looking into Toktumi, looks great on paper but I haven’t spoken with anyone that has used them. Anyone have any experience with them?

Peter Sisson

Hi Kevin,

Actually there are no bureaucratic or technical challenges to porting numbers for Google Voice at all. Level3 is their partner carrier for Google Voice (GV just ordered 1M new numbers from them last week.) Level3 supports porting numbers through an API that GV is no doubt integrating with. The delays are probably just attributable to working to make sure L3’s API can scale to handle the demand. Also, GV needs to build an interface to allow the process to be automated, which requires the customer to fill out exact service address and digitally sign an acknowledgement form. But its all very straightforward. The only hitch is that the FCC doesn’t require instant porting like it does between mobile carriers, so the port can take 10-14 days, almost all attributable to the out-porting carrier which is in no hurry to comply.

I know this because my company Toktumi also works with Level3 and we port numbers into our system all of the time. Toktumi is like a professional-grade version of Google Voice, designed for businesses who don’t want to trust their calls to a free service. We offer live customer support and additional features like auto-attendant, 800 numbers, a PC softphone, fax, desktop sharing, and a new mobile app called Line2 launching on the iPhone in a few weeks.

Edwin Copeland


I am trying to port my google voice number to Toktumi, is this possible?

Peter Sisson

Yes – no problem. We can port just about any number into our system, and we do it for free, unlike other carriers who charge up to $50. Because both google and toktumi use level3, porting will be especially trivial because it not really a port, just changing which servers the number points to. If you have any questions email me at psisson [at] toktumi /dot/ com.

Sean Brady

I am anxiously awaiting GV’s inbound portability. I already have a GV number though so I am not sure how that would work ( I would certainly give it up).

I am in a different situation than you Kevin. I have a home number that I am stringing along with the intention of canceling if I can port it to GV.

I am ready when Google is.

Ron P.

12There is a another service thatI am in the BETA for which actually can help with your problem Kevin. Take a look at It lets you forward your main number to their service which will in turn ring multiple phone devices. It may solve the issue for you without any hassle


The other wire-across-the-road-at-shoulder-height for Google is the problem that number portability doesn’t extend to forcing moving the number geographically. Portability refereed to moving the number from one carrier to another in the same geographic region to open up local competition.

The impact of this for Google is that they have to have a call service center in the right place to handle an area code for a number to be ported to them. They could start rolling out, as Vonage did, or wait and do the big bang approach.

Travis Carnahan

Does anyone know if google voice is addressing the ability to forward to an extension? I would happily jump on the bandwagon if that were the case!

Rich Rosen, FastCall411

If you are w/ ATT (or a carrier with a family plan) and are out of contract, you can add a second line ($9.95 w ATT), then port away the primary line. You may have to pay an activation fee. If you add the 2nd line w/o a phone, there is no contract extension.


Can’t wait for this to be released! Does anyone have an invite they want to share? (if there is such a thing)

Neil Haldar

Actually, Kevin – if I may – Jalapeno hit the nail of your problem on the head.

FCC told the carriers to accept number portability — but in my discussions with carriers, there is no distinction between a number and an account. Porting a number out *requires* an account to close.

Funny enough, I actually wrote to the FCC prior to the rulemaking (as a typical Joe consumer) and told the FCC that my telephone number and my contractual obligation to maintain an account with the phone company should be two different things. At issue, I think, is understanding WHO owns the underlying number, and what rights, if any, a consumer has to that number when it has become a unique identifier of mine. (Homework: what does this say about email addresses?)

However, the phone companies don’t see things this way — phone numbers and accounts are the same thing.

As a result, to port your number out from AT&T and to Google Voice (when Google is ready) will either take 1. a possible re-up of your contract into a new agreement period with a new number, or 2. some serious re-working of the system by FCC and carriers. (In either case, closing the account prior to the contract end triggers the ETF fee, and very few cases exist where the carrier walks away from that).

One thing is for sure: having a single number to spread voice across my connected devices is too powerful for the carriers to give away.

Untying phone numbers with contracts seems to be a carrier’s psychological kryptonite.

Kevin C. Tofel

You’ve got a better handle on this situation than I do. So does Jalapeno, for that matter! Thanks to you both! :)

So that’s a HUGE hurdle: having a phone number and an account being considered one and the same. My gut says that the FCC will have to modify old rules. When they were made, most phone numbers went with phones. Makes sense. But in tomorrow’s world, phone numbers could easily be assigned to services, not physical devices. Hmm…..


We offer a unique number forwarding service that many use in combination with Google Voice currently. NumberGarage allows you to park or forward your number similar to a domain name. You still would need to keep a carrier or service number, as you mentioned.


Kevin, right now if Google Voice were capable of receiving ported in mobile numbers, which I doubt they will be able to do, when you port away, your old account is closed. For your scenario to work they would have to add some kind of an option whereby you can port away without closing the account, and there they could assign you a second number.


I’m going to have to make the same decision too. I was planning on porting my AT&T number to the Pre, but porting to Google Voice may be a smarter choice.

Comments are closed.