With Google Voice, VOIP grows up

A day into using Google Voice, it's clear that Google has a winner on its hands. The universal number feature works perfectly - forwarding calls to mu

A day into using Google Voice, it's clear that Google has a winner on its hands. The universal number feature works perfectly - forwarding calls to multiple numbers (US only for the moment) to ring (virtually) simultaneously, with good call quality, one-touch call recording and even speech-to-text voicemail transcription.

Taken one by one, none of these features are revolutionary. The dedicated road warrior could, with a bit of effort, cobble together a similar system out of existing services. But because this is Google, it's far from a me-too service.

For a start, Google Voice integrates seamlessly with your existing Gmail contacts (though not currently in the same inbox), with a similarly intuitive interface. Calls within the US are completely free, and international rates start at just a couple of cents a minute.

But it's the little features that make Google Voice so impressive. If you're in the middle of a call on your home phone and need to head out, no worries. Just hit * and all your other numbers will ring - just pick up the call on your mobile and walk away. You can set up conference calls, do not disturbs and eavesdrop incoming voicemails just easily.

Pricing has yet to be announced, with service currently restricted to existing customers of Grand Central (which Google purchased in 2007), but expect a swift roll out - and some worried faces at Skype and Microsoft when it does.