I was in search of a low-cost VoIP provider to use as a home phone replacement, when I thought about Google Voice. The plus side of Google Voice being that all calls are free within the US, making for a fairly cost-effective phone service. The other factor that I needed to account for was that I needed a solution where 911 service functioned correctly. Google Voice alone will not terminate 911 service, so additional service was required.
Historically I’ve only used Google Voice as my voicemail replacement for my cell phone, which has worked very well. I get emails with transcriptions of my voicemails, and my mailbox never fills up. There’s even a Google app on my cell phone that alerts me to the presence of new voicemails and lets me play them back. There is also a feature that can keep me from accidentally dialing someone by prompting me with one last choice before a call is made of making the call with either my phone, or with Google Voice. Some might find that feature/option annoying, but it has saved me from accidentally dialing someone numerous times.
I went looking for a device that would allow me to use my regular home phone with Google Voice to make and receive calls. A few quick searches pointed me to Obihai Technologies. Specifically the: OBi202 VoIP Phone Adapter with Router, 2-Phone Ports, T.38 Fax – Supports: Google Voice & SIP (Unlocked). Which is available from Amazon for only $72 currently.
There are some other cheaper models which can do the same base functionality, but i really liked some of the features provided in the 202 model, so I was willing to spend a little more on it.
Setup of the OBi202 was a breeze, although it is slightly different than any other ATA I’ve ever used in that you are provided a web interface on the public Internet to help control and setup your device. Basically, here are the steps I followed:
- Plug in the “Internet” port to my home LAN. You could use this device as your router, but I already have a custom router doing my NAT and other settings, so I didn’t want to replace it. It works fine from behind my router without the need for forwarding any ports.
- Plug my analog phone in to the Line 1 port. Pick it up and hear dialtone.
- Open my web browser to http://www.obitalk.com/obinet/ and create my account, validate my email address, and login.
- Click on the “Add Device” and follow the instructions:
- Once Device is successfully added, you should give your device a name, admin password, and set the timezone. Once done with this you can go on to setting up Google Voice
Google Voice Setup
Setting up Google Voice on the OBi was easier than expected. Basic steps are broken down as follows:
- In the same OBiTalk web interface we were in above, click on the “SP1” under the Configure Voice Service Providers (SP) section
- Agree to the 911 warning, and then select “Google Voice” from the Service Provider list
- Enter your gmail/google voice credentials in the space provided. This was one step that I was least comfortable with, so I made sure to create a new Google Voice account, unassociated with my normal gmail account
- Put in your area code so you can do local 7-digit dialing, and complete the setup
- Login to your Google Voice portal, and click on the Gear icon in the top right, then select Settings
- Check the box next to the “Forwards to: Google Chat”
At this point, you’re all done with the Google Voice configuration, you should be able to make and receive calls with your Google Voice phone number using your regular analog phone. You may wish to tweak your answering machine settings like I did so that we just don’t use that function anymore. I let Google Voice act as my answering machine, and foward the voicemail notices off to an email alias that forwards accordingly. This is all done in the “Voicemail & Text” section of your Google Voice settings.
I needed 911 to work from my home phone. After setting up only Google Voice, I tested 911, and it did not work, so I set off in search of a cheap 911 service that I could use. I came across Callcentric, which also happens to be listed in the Service Provider section of the OBiTalk web interface. I was specifically interested in their “Pay Per Call” plan, as I do not want a large monthly fee for something I didn’t intend on using as a primary service.
I ordered the Pay Per Call plan from Callcentric, which requires a $5 deposit, and $3 for setting up the 911 service, and only $1.50/mo recurring charge for 911 cost recovery fee. They have a very nice 911 FAQ oulined here. I was given account information upon order completion, which I quickly plugged into the OBiTalk web interface for the “S2” (service provider 2) section, and checked the box that said “Use This Service for Emergency 911 Calls”. About 15 minutes or so later, I received the email notification from Callcentric that my 911 service had completed activation. I re-tested 911, and this time the phone rang, and I was put through to a 911 operator. I explained that I was setting up a new phone service, and I needed to confirm that 911 was functioning properly. She confirmed the name and address that popped up on her screen was correct. The phone number she read back was not a phone number that I knew, and I didn’t see it anywhere in my Callcentric account settings, or my Google Voice account, so I wrote it down. I confirmed that calling that number from my cell phone did indeed ring my phone, so that if 911 called back, it would get through correctly.
With the assistance of Obihai, Google Voice, and Callcentric, I now pay nothing for local and long distance phone calls throughout the US. I do pay $1.50/month to make sure that I have a functioning 911 service from my home phone.
So far, I’m pretty happy with the results!