Sprint / Google Voice integration has major issues, major lack of support (update: Sprint and Google respond)

Have you tried Sprint's new Google Voice integration? We know a lot of our readers have -- and many of them have had problems, writing in to us to express their displeasure. We started investigating and found a hoard of complaints, and the deeper we looked, the more issues we found. To make matters worse, Sprint has instructed its representatives to refer all Google Voice-related questions to the Google Voice Forum, which for reasons that frustrate us as much as you, Google itself seems to have forgotten exists. Join us for a full investigation into the issues, including voicemail security holes, accounts accidentally crippled by Sprint, and calls overseas that'll leave you swimming in usage fees.

Crippled Accounts

Plenty of users are unable to activate the service to begin with, but those that can are running into a rather significant, yet straightforward Sprint issue that has yet to find a resolution. Account holders are finding that their GV service is suddenly deactivated on the Sprint end of things, which sends their Google Voice accounts into the electronic equivalent of purgatory. After a lengthy discussion with a refreshingly thorough Sprint representative, we discovered that a unique code -- GGLVOICE -- is added to a Sprint account when Google activates the service. Simultaneously, Sprint's code for its own voicemail service is removed, since a phone number clearly can't send calls to multiple boxes. However, when someone makes a major change to an account (such as a rate plan adjustment), the Sprint voicemail code is re-added, prompting the rep to remove one of the codes. Apparently, many are unfamiliar with Google Voice, and choose to remove the GGLVOICE code instead of the Sprint voicemail code, which they see every day. Once the code is removed, however, it cannot be restored manually, and integration can no longer be deactivated in Google Voice.

As a result, calls to a user's Sprint number are no longer routed through GV, and are instead sent directly to the phone, rendering the Google account useless. If the caller happens to also be using Google Voice, however, then texts and calls are only sent to the Google account, as they're processed without leaving Google's servers, which are unaware that Sprint had accidentally deactivated the account in question. There is nothing you can do to fix this issue if Sprint accidentally clears your code, but the carrier clearly needs to update its systems (and properly inform its reps), only allowing the GGLVOICE code to be removed when deactivated through Google.

Update: We spoke to Brian Smith, Sprint's director of product development, who recognizes this issue and is working to correct it. The carrier is developing a solution for repairing broken accounts that its top-level tech support can begin to implement as soon as possible. In the meantime, Sprint is also working to find a way to prevent accidental GGLVOICE code removal.

Activation Issues

Many users are unable to activate GV in the first place, receiving an error message with each attempt. Google has confirmed with us that Nextel phones, PowerSource phones, along with any phone on a corporate or prepaid account are ineligible for integration. The restriction appears to extend to personal accounts that receive corporate and education discounts, however, which should not be the case. We've received dozens of emails from affected customers with discounts ranging from 6 to 23 percent that they received after registering a corporate email address with Sprint. These accounts should not be affected, as they're registered to individuals. Sprint has confirmed that customers with corporate discounts on a personal account should be able to activate their accounts "as soon as possible." Google's standard message of "Unfortunately, Google Voice cannot be enabled on this Sprint phone" provides little help to those individuals.

Update: Sprint has confirmed that discounted accounts currently fall under the enterprise umbrella, which typically only includes corporate-liable and accounts paid by a government agency or other organization. If the customer is responsible for paying the bill but receives a discount, Sprint is working to make Google Voice available by mid-May.

Ghost Voicemail

If you've ever wondered if voicemail accounts granted automatic management-level access based on phone number alone, we finally have your proof. One reader, Bill, successfully integrated his Sprint and GV accounts, but decided to revert back to his old Google Voice number after hearing about other users' experiences. We're not surprised to hear that didn't go according to plan. Instead of reverting back to his old number, Google responded with a message saying that there was an error with his request. But the service was deactivated on Sprint's end (his account now lacks the GGLVOICE code, too). Now, calls to his Sprint number are routed to his Sprint phone, bypassing Google entirely. When he places calls using Google's web app, however, his Sprint phone never rings, but the call does go through.

Instead of connecting to his phone, those on the other end are linked directly to his Sprint voicemail, but are brought to the management side as if they've dialed from his phone, able to listen to messages and change settings. We had Bill give us a call to verify this bizarre bug, and surely enough, we found ourselves able to listen to his messages, and change his greeting (though we instead disconnected a few seconds later, as promised). This occurs because Google Voice is still spoofing his Sprint number, and Sprint is connecting the call directly to voicemail, as if Bill were dialing his phone number from his own phone. Regardless of why it happens, it certainly shouldn't, and users with sensitive messages should proceed with extreme caution.

Update: Bill M's account has since been fully restored. Google is electing to avoid comment on the voicemail bug, but has confirmed that as of today, no users should be experiencing this issue.

International Calls

One of the most significant incentives to integrating your phone with Google Voice is that you'll be making international calls through Google, taking advantage of its rates, which are much lower than Sprint's. In some cases, integration appears to complete successfully, but calls from the Sprint phone are not routed through Google Voice. When this happens, international calls (like all other calls) are connected by Sprint, resulting in high usage fees. After dialing, you should hear a message from Google announcing the per-minute call rate, before you're connected. If you don't hear this message, hang up and confirm that your account is properly configured.

Update: Google Voice lead Vincent Paquet has confirmed that the international call issue is also related to the GGLVOICE code removal. GV users that have received international usage charges on their Sprint account after activating Google Voice should share their experience in detail by emailing voice-sprint-preview [at] googlegroups [dot] com.


Google and Sprint clearly have their work cut out for them, but to Sprint's credit, customer service representatives that we spoke to did their best to research the situation and provide any assistance that they could. Unfortunately, the result is always the same -- reps at every level redirect callers to the Google Voice Forum, rather than an email or telephone support line.

It appears that Sprint does in fact know how to get in touch with Google, at least at the executive level. We received a joint response, sent from representatives of both companies. Surprisingly, their official position is that customers with Sprint-related Google Voice questions should contact Sprint directly. From our experience, Sprint representatives will then refer customers to Google, so that suggestion couldn't be less helpful. Unfortunately, there's no word on when we can expect these bugs to be resolved. In the meantime, it goes without saying that you should avoid activating Google Voice on your Sprint phone, unless the mobile gods have blessed you with multiple devices -- or you really don't care about being able to use your phone to actually make calls.

Update: Sprint claims that these issues are isolated, and do not affect the majority of customers. It has come to this conclusion because there have been very few documented in-store "site visits" or customer calls, but we feel this is more a result of representatives' inability to escalate support tickets than the issue being as limited as Sprint recognizes. Nonetheless, the carrier has stated that it is taking all related issues very seriously, regardless of the number of complaints it has received.

From Sprint: "We're not getting calls on this, we're not getting people coming into the stores on this. The only place that we're seeing it is from the online forums."

We've seen an enormous increase in Google employee activity on the Google Voice Forum since yesterday. Google has confirmed that it will continue to not offer telephone or email support for Google Voice, as is the case with all free products.

Update 2: We've posted a summary of the progress that's been made since yesterday.

[Thanks, Brett, Bill, and everyone else who sent this in]