Google Voice Finally Open to U.S. Residents

Google Voice, the service that’s been behind a velvet rope for almost a year, is finally opening up to all comers, at least in the U.S. Google Voice is based on Grand Central’s one-number-for-life service. Google (s goog) acquired Grand Central in 2007 for a rumored $50 million and since then has been trying to integrate it with its various offerings. From today’s press release:

A little over a year ago, we released an early preview of Google Voice, our web-based platform for managing your communications. We introduced one number to ring all your phones, voicemail that works like email, free calls and text messages to the U.S. and Canada, low-priced international calls and more—the only catch was you had to request and receive an invite to try it out. Today, after lots of testing and tweaking, we’re excited to open up Google Voice to the public, no invitation required.

Over the past year, we’ve introduced a mobile web app, an integrated voicemail player in Gmail, the ability to use Google Voice with your existing number and more. Over a million of you are now actively using Google Voice, and many of the features released over the past year (like SMS to email and our Chrome extension) came as a result of your suggestions, so thanks!

When Google announced the service in July 2009, I pointed out that it was a good way for Google to become a phone company. Fast-forward to today, and you can see the company is making strides, especially on the Android platform where it is completely integrated, allowing you to initiate and receive calls exclusively on the Google Voice number, thereby pushing the traditional phone company into the background. As I wrote back then:

The app is so tightly enmeshed with Android OS and the address book and other apps, you hardly think that you’re using Google Voice. If Google bundles the Google Voice app with Android and sells it to makers of cheaper feature phones, it can start to insert itself between the consumers and wireless companies.

That said, when used on other platforms such as BlackBerry (s rimm), Google Voice is marred by poor sound quality, especially as calls are routed from other numbers. I think that’s mostly because of the general degradation of voice on most networks, be they wired or not. Anyway if you want to try it out, visit Google Voice website.