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The power of 406

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Google Voice, the Internet giant's increasingly popular attempt at reinventing telephony, has acquired an untold number of Montana phone numbers to power its innovative technology.

The service, which Google launched on a limited basis in March 2009 and opened to the public about six weeks ago, employs 406 phone numbers as intermediaries used for placing phone calls and sending text messages.

"The 406 area code is a fitting choice," Google's Randall Sarafa tells the Indy via e-mail, "because the area code spells G-O-O, a bit of word play on 'Google.'"

To understand why Google Voice would use Montana phone numbers, it helps to understand how the service works. Google Voice gives users a new phone number that can be managed online and through mobile phone applications. When someone calls that number it can ring all of the user's phones—at home, work and in their pocket—at once. The settings can be adjusted based on who's calling and the time of day. And voicemails are stored and transcribed, playable both on phones and in an online Google Voice inbox.

The 406 number comes into play when placing calls and sending text messages from within Google Voice.

"When you initiate a call from one of Google Voice's mobile applications...," Sarafa explains, "your phone will place a call to a Google Voice routing number [a 406 number]. From there, we'll connect you to the recipient and will display your Google Voice number as the outbound caller ID."

Also, when someone sends a text message to a user's Google number, and it's forwarded to their mobile phone, the text appears as from a 406 number. It's confusing, but it's done that way, according to the company, "so you can reply from any of your phones and keep a record of the entire conversation online in your Google Voice inbox." Which suggests (though Sarafa is unable to confirm it) that all Google Voice users—whether in Montana or Massachusetts—have a unique Montana phone number associated with their account.

Sarafa says Google Voice acquires the routing numbers from "carrier partners who are licensed in the state of Montana," but declines to say how many numbers the company has acquired so far.

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