This article was updated in February, 2017 with new information about both Project Fi and Google Voice.
In January 2017, Google Voice was given the big update many of us using it had been waiting for. A rich user interface with things like threaded messaging and MMS for everyone, as well as a new web interface all worked to make using Google Voice easier. But for some, namely Project Fi users, it put an end to being able to use the app the way we had been using it. And to add a little salt to the wound, we've all been hearing about how Hangouts — the only option for Fi subscribers to use more than one phone — is moving away to become some strange corporate enterprise thing.
If Hangouts morphs into something else, what happens to Fi users who need Google Voice features?
A Project Fi subscriber can no longer have a traditional Google Voice account. Both systems share the same infrastructure, so tying more than one number to the same account isn't possible. Your Project Fi phone number is your Google Voice number and vice versa. Before the update, users with a Project Fi-issued phone number were able to install the Google Voice app on a different phone or a tablet so sending and receiving SMS was available using the Fi number and calls would come in or could be made using the Fi number.
This update takes that option away, leaving Hangouts as the only method to use one number across different devices. And Hangouts is going away, at least as we know it today.
We reached out to Project Fi and heard the same well-intentioned line everyone eventually received; nothing to announce, Google understands the situation, pair of aces in the wrong places and all that. But there is light at the end of the tunnel when we veer away from the official word and look to the unconfirmed but reliable sources.
Google is said to be adding the functionality Project Fi users currently have via Hangouts into the new Google Voice. That could mean a merging of Fi and Google Voice, additional features in the Project Fi app for devices with a different SIM card and phone number, or a fix for Google accounts associated with a Fi account so that they can access the Google Voice app and its features using a Fi number.
Google's messaging strategy is an unknown and can be confusing. Still, we expect they have some plan in mind for folks paying them to use Project Fi. Google Voice has been a favorite for many since it was Grand Central and is still a great way to have a second number or use the same number everywhere. We hope it stays that way.
The original text of the article follows below.
News that Google was finally pushing Project Fi invites to a handful of people led to a whole lot of users asking those lucky enough to get in on the action what the experience was like. In doing so, a screenshot appeared that suggested using Project Fi meant destroying your Google Voice account. The dialogue box from the screenshot explains you can either bring your Google Voice number over to Project Fi, or you can use a different number with a caveat explaining your current Voice number will be released if you go with a different number.
If all you know about Project Fi and Google Voice comes from that one screenshot, there'd be plenty of reason to be concerned. Fortunately, after a quick chat with the folks at Google, we know things aren't nearly as dire as they seem.
Project Fi uses the same infrastructure as Google Voice, and all of those features follow with you from Google Voice to Project Fi.
The first thing you need to know about Project Fi is how the system is built to function. Fi operates on a special hybrid network that allows users to move seamlessly between Wifi, T-Mobile, and Sprint networks, with unique pricing that lets you pay for what you use and not a penny more. The service also lets you use your Fi number on devices that aren't connected to the Fi network. You can use your Fi number to make calls, send SMS, and access call forwarding and voicemail transcripts on anything running Google Hangouts, including your desktop.
Sound familiar? That's because Project Fi uses the same infrastructure as Google Voice, and all of those features follow with you from Google Voice to Project Fi.
Google Voice isn't being destroyed by this new service, it's growing up and becoming Project Fi. You have the same features that work the same way, with the added bonus of being able to use the Project Fi mobile carrier service if you choose. Remember, Project Fi is month to month, so you can jump on and off the service as you please. More importantly, Google has confirmed users who stop using Fi will be able to continue using the Google Voice features in Hangouts, only now it'll be called Project Fi when setting it up on new devices. If you want access to your old Google Voice information, like call history and old voicemail, there's a button to do exactly that inside the Project Fi web interface.
So relax, Google isn't taking Voice from you. If anything, Google is doing what folks have been begging them to do for well over a year now by bringing Voice into the modern era and tacking new features onto it. If you're only casually interested in Fi and don't want to move your Voice account over, you can use another Gmail account and get a fresh number generated. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the ride.