Monday, July 16, 2007

Google's GrandCentral now also in Germany

Google's GrandCentral ("One Number...for LifeTM - a number that's not tied to a phone or a location - but tied to you") now works also in Germany, with German numbers - if you can accept some shortcomings. I just checked it out.

Two days ago I got this email:
Good news! We are excited to announce that we are opening the GrandCentral private beta to some additional users and would like to extend you an invitation to sign up. To get started, just click on the invitation link below and register for your free GrandCentral phone number. Once you create an account, you will be able to invite up to 10 friends to also join our private beta and they will be able to sign up immediately.

Since the GrandCentral beta is still closed to the general public, you will need to click on this link to sign up. If you already have a GrandCentral account or you no longer wish to sign up, you can forward the link to a friend.

Thanks again for your interest in GrandCentral and enjoy the service!

Craig Walker & Vincent Paque
Maybe that's because I applied some weeks ago. When first I entered my data on GrandCentral's website they wouldn't let me sign up. The process always sent me back to the first screen. But after some tweaking with proxies I finally got my own GrandCentral account as you can see here:

Just type in your US number an let my phone ring! You are welcome.

The next thing to do was to forward a local German VoIP number to my US GrandCentral number, which is located in Albany, NY. With this call forward I can do nearly everything that US GrandCentral users can do. And of course this call forward is free, because I use Voipcheap which provides free calls to the US.

When someone calls me, a computer voice asks me to choose from four options:
  • "1" to accept the call,
  • "2" to send it to voice mail
  • "3" to send it to voice mail and ListenIn. That's great to filter callers. If the message is intesting then I still pick up the phone and start a conversation.
  • "4" to accept the call and record it directly in GrandCentral. That's a great feature for me as a journalist who sometimes likes to have recordings of his interviews.
There are far more features, as you can see here, but I did not try them out yet.

The one thing that's obviously missing is to screen the callers and to filter spam calls by caller ID. Normally GrandCentral asks every caller to tell his name before it connects the call. But my forwarded calls have all the same caller ID from the number in Berlin. To GrandCentral it always seems to be the same caller and the computer voice always tells me that "Markus" is calling. That's a little bit annoying since I am the "Markus" who is alledgedly calling. Only people who call directly to my US GrandCentral number can be callscreened correctly.

One feature I really love is the free call forward from GrandCentral to Gizmo Project numbers, although I have critized it some months ago. It's a great and necessary feature since GrandCentral doesn't give SIP login data to its customers. Now I just forward for free from GrandCentral to a Gizmo number that's installed in my Fritz!Box ATA.

I even managed to forward GrandCentral calls for free over a GSM gateway to my cell phone. But that's crap. The computer voice asks me to type 1,2,3 or 4. But whatever I do it doesn't accept it. I suppose that GrandCentral relies only on DTMF touch tones and cannot understand my cell phones instructions. But why does it work with mobile phones in the US? Do they have touch tones?

I hope to learn more about GrandCentral in the next days and let it work like a virtual secretary who manages my phone calls. On Asterisk it would be possible to transmit the original caller ID over the call forward to GrandCentral, so that I could use also the call screening.

But then: Who needs GrandCentral if he or she has an own Asterisk server?

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