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How-To: Free Calling With Google Voice, AT&T A-List and Your iPhone

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Have you heard about AT&T’s (s att) A-List? (In my circle of acquaintances, surprisingly few have.) Similar to other carriers, AT&T now offers five to 10 (depending on your rate plan) numbers that are free of charge. If you combine this with a Google Voice account, you can breathe easy as you eliminate the potential of overshooting your allowance of plan minutes. This isn’t new information mind you, but if you’re not aware, we’re about to show you how to set it up for yourself.

First, the disclaimer. I have set this up for myself and it all seems to be working without any issues. I couldn’t find this to be in direct violation of AT&T’s Terms of Service (though I understand it may be for the likes of T-Mobile, and possibly other carriers as well). That said, it is definitely a loophole that is probably not smiled-upon by AT&T — and probably a big reason that there was a huge hullabaloo over Google Voice being booted from the App Store last summer. On the other hand, to have the A-List feature, you have to be paying for a certain rate plan anyway, so AT&T will be getting a guaranteed chunk of cash from you each month anyway. Consider yourself edukated, and proceed at your own discretion.

Set It Up

Okay, now let’s begin. You’ll first need to make sure you’ve got the option to use A-List, based on your AT&T rate plan. Here are the qualifying factors, direct from AT&T’s webpage:

  • Individual plans 900+ minutes ($59.99 and over) per month
  • FamilyTalk plans 1400+ minutes ($89.99 and over) per month
    qualify for A-List

And when you sign up for the A-List feature, here’s what you get:

  • No extra charge with your qualifying plan
  • Add up to 5 numbers on your individual plan
  • Add up to 10 numbers on your FamilyTalk plan
  • Add any domestic number, on any network – including landline numbers
  • Calls to and from your A-List numbers are not charged against your rate

If you qualify, but aren’t yet using A-List, log into your AT&T Wireless account and go to “Manage Features.” Under the Shared features, you should find the $0.00 option for A-List. Choose that and update your features. After doing so, you’ll have the opportunity to populate your five to 10 numbers (dependent upon your rate plan). This is where you’ll enter your Google Voice number (if you have one, that is).

Obviously the other key here, is to have the Google Voice service. If you’re lacking in this department, don’t despair (we won’t judge you). The good news is, there are options: You can either let Google know you’d like an invite one day, or ask current users who may have up to three invites to share. Unfortunately I’m all out, or you — my favorite TAB readers — would be in luck.

Because Google Voice functions as a forwarding service, the numbers that may be calling you can potentially come through to your phone directly, and unless those numbers are on your A-List, they’ll be counting against your minutes. To avoid this, you’ll need to go into your Google Voice Settings page. On the ‘Calls’ tab, look for the ‘Caller ID (in)’ section. Make sure that “Display my Google Voice number” is selected, and then save your changes. Doing this ensures that any call in or out of Google Voice (to your cell phone) is covered by AT&T on your A-List. Otherwise those calls will be from an arbitrary number that was transfered to you.

The key to success with this setup is using Google Voice for as much of your calling as possible. That means getting the word out to those who call you too. Lifehacker has some good tips for making this transition, if you’re ready to commit. Ideally, you can access either the Google Voice webpage from the browser on your phone, or you have access to the Google Voice app which is only available to Jailbroken iPhones. (Though fear not, our very own Chris Ryan has given some solid tips for getting the most out of Google Voice, regardless of your phone situation.)

When you initiate a call using Google Voice (whichever flavor of access you opt for), the service first rings your phone, and then connects that call on your phone to the number you wanted to dial, so from an A-List perspective, it’s your Google Voice number that’s performing the call.

So that’s about it. There’s not a whole lot to it, but rather, more about connecting the dots. I think it’s a fair solution too. AT&T is guaranteed to get $200 out of my family each month, and with the huge pool of roll over minutes we’ve got built up, it’s not likely we’ll ever have an overage anyway, so we’re all happy at the end of the day. Good luck getting yours setup, and enjoy the free calls.

Related GigaOM Pro Research: How Google Voice Could Change Communication

15 Responses to “How-To: Free Calling With Google Voice, AT&T A-List and Your iPhone”

  1. Google Voice is free, sure, and like I said, it’s been a personal help when I had an issue that rendered my phone unusable. However, there’s a difference between accepting an app that does a pretty good job and pushing a company to make a better product that will ultimately benefit you more. Consumers do that all the time with feedback, and most software-makers listen. It’s to everyone’s advantage.

    That’s why I suggested that Google should introduce tiered services, so that those who want to stick with the free service can do so, and those who want to upgrade to higher quality can also go that route. More choices are better in my book.

    • Why is call screening out the door? GVoice allows you to screen calls as they come in, or block them completely (i.e. every time a call comes in from X play the “this number is not in service” message).

      Don’t use the GVoice web app if you don’t like it, use it directly on your phone. Google has support for Blackberry and Android. Alas, Apple block GVoice support for iPhone.

    • Because when you enable the call to show as from the gv # then you lose the incoming # it displays as the gv#. I like to look and see the # not answer to know if I want to answer. I have an iPhone.

    • Jay,
      You can still screen calls, if you require your callers to say their name… it’s a PITA for the caller (only once per #), but it worked for me (until I learned how to turn it off).

  2. Nice post, I like the details and Google Voice and resources like Chris Ryan’s ..”getting the most”. Any readers have an invite they could share drwatson101 at To Our Success!

  3. TurbineSeaplane

    Unless you’re doing a Family Talk plan (say you’re single for instance), why not just spend $10 more per month and get the Unlimited plan for $69.99 and not screw around with any of this?

  4. meredithq

    I tried this the day that the A-list came out and every incoming call was registered as a call to my own number on my bill… and you can’t add your own number to your A list. I played with plenty of settings, number masking, etc… to no avail. Is this different???

    • the key is “On the ‘Calls’ tab, look for the ‘Caller ID (in)’ section. Make sure that “Display my Google Voice number” is selected” because then all calls coming to your phone (in or out) are from your Google Voice number, rather than the numbers calling you. The way A-List works, is the number you call, or that calls you is free.
      It seems to work now, you might look into it again.

  5. quandmeme

    A-list was oddly a backward step for AT&T’s approval rating. My wife and I use around 600-800 minutes to non-AT&T mobiles. So we can’t do the 700 minute plan. We felt like we were overpaying because we really need a 900 minute plan but the only options are 700 or 1400.

    Now with A-list we use barely 300 minutes. If we try to switch from the 1400 minutes a month, we lose A-list. With the 1400 minute plan we have over a 1,000 minutes roll over.

    This means that we FEEL like we are massively overpaying when we are really only slightly overpaying.

    Funny how an otherwise nice feature has left a bad taste.