Friday, December 17, 2010

Get a US phone number for unlimited sending and receiving texts - US Only

Disclaimer: This process is fraught with communication breakdown, getting multiple services on multiple services working together and is in no way fool proof or 100% reliable. 
I have somehow come up with a way to to combine directions I stumbled upon on Lifehacker.com and a mobile device such as iPod Touch, iPhone or Android to obtain a US phone number and send, receive and make calls for free. This is a bit of a complicated process, combining a proxy, SipGate, Google Voice, the Google Voice app on iPhone and Android and Fring. While I am an Android user and advocate, this post will focus on the iPod Touch and iPhone due to their prevalence among the expat community here in Korea and abroad.
Following the directions linked above to Lifehacker will enable you to obtain a US number from SipGate just for calls to send and receive calls from your computer for free. There is one issue with getting an account with SipGate: they require you to have a US number to for verification purposes only. They will send you a confirmation code essentially to make sure that bots are not signing up for the service. An easy walk around was having them send the confirmation code to my dad's phone and he simply IM'd me the code.
Note: The following no longer seems to be the case.Unfortunately, SipGate is not available outside of the US; in order to get to their site, first download, install and launch HotSpot Shield. Once this is launched and connected, all web traffic generated by your computer will appear as if it were coming from within the US and not South Korea (or any other country for that matter). Once connected, you can sign up for the service. In order to save time, I will not review the steps already posted in the Lifehacker article but please feel free to contact me through the comment board below with any questions as the steps have altered slightly since Lifehacker published the original post.
I will start this guide assuming you have already obtained your US phone number from SipGate and have set up a Google Voice account.

  1. Texting: once you have obtained the number assigned to you by Google Voice, you can now text anyone in the States and they can text you back. There is no charge sending texts to them and they are charged the cost of a domestic text. In other words, if they have an unlimited texting plan, they will be able to text you under that plan.
  2. Phone Calls: you will be able to make calls for free as long as you have the SipGate client open on your computer. Folks in the States will be able to call you at your Google Voice number and it will be forwarded to the SipGate client on your computer. 
So this is great, right? What could possibly make this better? How about this functionality on your mobile device? If you have a mobile device, simply download the Google Voice app for iPod/iPhone and you can take the texting functionality with you wherever you have an internet connection. But what about the voice?

So essentially, at this point, Google Voice will handle all outgoing calls, outgoing texts and incoming texts. What about incoming calls?

Enter Fring. Fring essentially replaces the need for the SipGate client on your computer and moves it over to your mobile device. Essentially Fring has nothing to do with the texting features of this project nor making calls. Fring simply lets you receive calls made to your Google Voice number for free on a mobile device. 
To set up Fring:
  1. Download Fring here
  2. Once the application is launched, choose a Fring user ID and password. These credentials are only for logging into Fring. 
  3. Once logged in, go to the settings menu and select Add-ons. After being presented with the accounts you can link to Fring, select "Sip". 
  4. To link Fring to SipGate, Go to your SipGate Account page and click on the SIP credentials link. There you will find the information you need to enter into Fring. Enter in the unique SIP-ID and SIP-Password and sipgate.com for the proxy into Fring. Click login. 

You should now be able to receive calls on your mobile device if someone in the States calls your Google Voice Number. 

This is scattered and is a very complicated project to replace Skype, which serves the same functions much more simply but at a price. I hope this will put you on the right track and will help you get in better touch with friends and loved ones back in the Sates.

*Note: this process may in fact work for Canadian users as Google Voice is available in Canada but I have no contacts in Canada and cannot verify that it works.