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This is the biggest news about Google Voice since the company behind it, previously called Grand Central, was acquired by Google in 2007. They’ve integrated with Sprint (NYSE:S). What that means is you are one of Sprint’s 50 million U.S. customers, your Sprint phone number is now also a Google Voice number. And If you’re already a Google Voice subscriber, you can use that number on your Sprint phone without the need for any software. Details are at google.com/voice/sprint.

Here’s how it works. If you are currently a Sprint customer, you can opt in to make that Sprint phone number your Google Voice phone number. This isn’t number porting, Sprint retains control of your number. They simply tell Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) when you make or receive calls, and forward that call to other phones if you’ve chosen those options. Google also takes over the voicemail for the phone, and long distance calls are completed by Google at Google’s very low international rates.

In other words, if you have a Sprint phone you can choose to make that a Google Voice phone as well. And get all the benefits of Google Voice, like having it ring to any phone you control, initiating and receiving calls from Gmail, hilarious voicemail transcriptions, etc.

And the partnership is two way as well. If you already have a Google Voice phone number, you can have your Sprint mobile phone make outbound calls using that number as well. Previously you had to use a Google Voice app, or initiate phone calls through a mobile web browser, to make that happen.

This kind of integration is far more useful to users, and far less painful to set up, than number porting, which Google launched earlier this year.

And if that’s not enough, Google is also announcing today the availability of its first 4G and CDMA version of the Nexus S Android phone, available with Sprint.

This Is Meaningful

This is a meaningful partnership. Not just for Sprint users, who can now have the benefits of Google Voice and use their phone number anywhere they want. The carriers have rarely done much that makes sense for their users. The fact that Sprint is willing to give up control of the phone number for those who want to use Google Voice shows that there is actual competition breaking out in the U.S. mobile world, and a willingness to try bold new things to differentiate products. I’ve had my issues with Sprint in the past, but this is a brilliant move by them.

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Source: 50 Million Sprint Customers Integrated Into Google Voice