Google to launch free phone service

Google has continued its aggressive expansion into the telecom industry with the launch of Google Voice, a VoIP-like service offering free calls to and from phones within the US.

Initially only available to subscribers of Google subsidiary GrandCentral, the service will be made available to the general public in the coming weeks, Google said.

Google Voice allows users to have a single number across every phone and delivers speech-to-text voicemail. It offers free calls within the US, low-priced international calls - such as 2c per minute to China - and free conferencing.

The service is based on existing GrandCentral features, so that when the number is called every device attached to it will ring at once. Google acquired GrandCentral two years ago.

Users will also be granted the ability to archive all their SMS messages and their voicemail.

Google is also offering free transcription of voicemail. Google's text-to-voice mechanism is not yet perfect, tech pundit David Pogue said, but it highlights the words that are not clear.

Unlike the competing PC-based Skype service, Google Voice allows users to call in to their voicemail service from any phone, and from there get a dial tone allowing them to call out at the cheaper rates.

For now, the service will be ad-free, with Google believing it can generate enough revenue from international calling to support the very low cost service, the New York Times said.