My Free Home Phone Experiment With OBiTalk And Google Voice

I don’t know anyone who still uses the phone company for phone service. We’ve all switched to Comcast, Vonage or Ooma. But wow, it’s still expensive. Comcast charges $45 for phone service (less as part of my $170 internet-tv-phone bundle). Vonage is minimum $13/month for limited minutes with unlimited incoming. Ooma only charges taxes and regulatory fees, but it’s a few dollars a month and the hardware isn’t cheap.

I’m going in a different direction.

I stripped my cable subscription down to pure Internet. It’s guaranteed 22 mbps (I get a steady 15 mbps) and it costs $80 a month, all in. TV and phone are gone.

I bought this device for $45 the other day (shipping included) – the OBi100. It’s much like a Vonage ATA. You plug Internet, electricity and a phone into it. What it doesn’t have is any kind of service, so on its own all you can do is call other OBiTalk users.

You CAN, however, log into Google Voice with with device and use that as your phone service. And since Google Voice is free (for now), there are exactly zero charges for this setup.

Sayonara, Comcast Phone.

I set the device up yesterday, total time was about 20 minutes. It’s plugged directly into my home’s phone network so all the phone jacks work. I’ve been testing it for a day and it works as well as the Comcast phone did. And it’s totally free.

The only issue I can’t resolve is I can’t seem to get call screening to work properly, although I’m guessing I’ll figure it out when I pay enough attention to it.

This is a beautiful add-on service for Google Voice. Google should be building ATAs themselves and selling them to users without any setup hassle at all. Until then, though, I’m happy with this setup. And even happier with the zero dollars I’m now paying for home phone service.

52 thoughts on “My Free Home Phone Experiment With OBiTalk And Google Voice

  1. Morgan says:

    Thanks! That’s solid. Google Voice integration with Sprint, plus this, I don’t think anyone will ever know where I am again. I wonder if it can work outside the country.

    • Brajeshwar says:

      I guess it should work outside US. Once you have a Google Voice account, it continue to work outside US. As this device does Google Voice, it should just work fine.

      • It works outside of US. I have been using it in Indian for about a year now.

        • utp says:

          How did you setup for an Indian account? When I had it set and try to call it says, add balance to your account.

          • Johnny says:

            Hi Utp,
            I wil be leaving soon for India and I am too planning to buy Obi 100 while i m in US to make free calls to US/Canada.Could u please confirm if there are any charges for calls from India to US/Canada.
            The OBI tech team confirmed me that there is a charge of 1cent per minute if calls are orignating from INdia to US/Canada

  2. JPB says:

    Agree that Ooma has a big cost of getting started ($199 which is about the same as buying a decent smartphone these days). But I was surprised at how quickly it paid off. I have had ZERO issues using it.

    Vonage is toast. There’s no comparison for price or ease of use. I ditched them and never looked back.

    Maybe after my kids move out, I’ll downsize again to something like Obi, but then I’d have to move my home phone number to Google Voice and I’m not sure I’m ready to do that just yet.

    • Bigus Dikus says:

      Good luck staying ditched. I had them back in the day, around the time they lost that big lawsuit. Ditched them and went to a real VOIP provider. Then they kept billing me after I cancelled, mystery reactivation excuses, etc.,. It was a lot like AOL when their dial-up business was imploding, and unsolicited AOL Signup CD’s were the most readily available drink coasters in most homes.

  3. bstringy says:

    I got this setup going a few months ago myself. Works great, no issues.

  4. Steve Parent says:

    Glad to see you’re still living froogle, you millionaire. ;)

  5. BillH says:

    Can you dial out from the phone handset and the device does the necessary Google Voice operation?

    • BillH says:

      Nevermind, it appears you can originate calls from a handset. Please delete my comment – sorry for leaving it before investigating.

  6. Nick says:

    Wow, very cool.

  7. JP says:

    I use Sipgate.de and Sipgate.com to terminate into the POTS, maintaining a phone number in Germany and here in the 415 are code. For years now. No recurring fee, pay as you go and it’s dirt cheap. On my end, the two “lines” terminate in an Asterisk PBX that runs on an Asus Eee PC that’s sticking next to the cable modem and home router/wireless AP. Then connect a bunch of SIP phones via PBX extensions, just like a small business would. Anything with a SIP client does; I’ve got a bunch of Nokias (N8, E60, N800, X7), a Nexus One and softphones on every notebook PC and iMac. It drives the pets crazy when they’re all connected (they rarely are) and ring with an incoming call. Cost: One time $150 for the Eee PC (which could do double duty as a firewall or mail server if I wanted to), and a dollar or two every month for the occasional call in the US and Germany.

  8. Nam says:

    This is the first time I have noticed just how expensive comm Services are in the US. For reference: In Germany you pay about 25 EUR (~30-35 USD) for 16 Mbit Internet access incl. unlimited Calls to landlines. Add cable TV and you’re somewhere around 40 EUR – that’s less than half the US charges. What’s wrong there?

    • Ryan says:

      His rate is expensive to me, too. Unfortunately, in most markets you only have one cable provider to choose from. Where I live (Greenville, SC) it’s $44.95 / mo. for 30 Mbps through Charter, though that was with a “deal” my installer cut me that I’ll have to call someone to “renew” next year. : P

    • Noob says:

      What’s wrong is that we deregulated our telecom sector in the 1990s while doing everything to discourage new market entrants. Now most people have no choice of providers (the more fortunate might have two), so there’s little pressure on pricing.

  9. Ace says:

    Mike, you’re willing to pay for Uber at 3x regular cab prices, but $13 for home phone service? ;)

  10. @arrington you rock! I’ve been looking for a way to pull this off without a sipsorcery or sipgate for months! My only issue is that currently I use Vonage as my home number and it is one of my numbers that i forward both my own and my wife’s Google Voice numbers to. If I bind it to one of our Google Voice numbers or even setup a new Google Voice number for it, you cannot forward from Google Voice to Google Voice. I’ll figure out some alternative.

    Thanks again for sharing how you pulled it off!

    • The Obi can log into two gmail/google voice accounts simultaneously. Then either the obi or the cordless phone we have generates a slightly different ring depending on what line is being called (I assume it’s the obi.) To dial out my wife can just dial and I have to dial an access code (**2). Voxilla.com has a good tutorial from January 2011 and good followup articles as well. Hope this helps.

  11. Oraj Bodur says:

    This is not going to be very relevant, but I just have to state my amazement at how expensive internet is in US. I live in Turkey, which can be put on the higher spots of the “developing countries” list, and I pay $40 for steady 20mbps internet connection. For around $70 I would get a mind staggering 100 mbps. Although this is not available in every part of the city and Istanbul is probably the only city which has this service.

    • David says:

      “,,, Turkey, which can be put on the higher spots of the “developing countries” list ,,,”Yeah, right…

  12. Eric says:

    Been working with this setup for cloae to a year with no problems. Can’t beat the cost and I’m able to use google voice features to screen out and block telemarketers.

  13. Blubadger says:

    Here in France unlimited quadruple play (i.e., including mobile) costs $55, the standard box (net, TV, phone) costs around $37, and an internet-only box (28Mbps) costs $13. Ah, the horrors of socialism!

  14. Ken says:

    As mentioned above you should check out sipgate.com or similar services that use the SIP standard. It’s superior to Skype and Google Voice in my opinion. Free service with 1 lifelong phone number worldwide, you just plug your SIP-enabled phone into any internet connection and it works. Softphones and smartphones can connect simultaneously, too. Excellent call quality at cheap rates. It’s a market flaw that SIP has not evolved as the leading VOIP standard, but it’s still incredibly useful.

    • Alex says:

      Only problem with this sipgate.com is that there are no numbers available right now, and also according to the fine print, calls from sipgate to sipgate are free, but calls to domestic numbers and Canada are 1.9 cents per minute. This doesn’t sound too bad, until you consider that at $25/month for unlimited domestic home phone service, this gives you about 1,315 minutes per month on SIP. This equals to 21 hours of calling. So, sure, if you get everyone on sipgate, then this would be wonderful. But without nationwide adoption, this becomes just like having pay-per-call in the “old days”.

  15. Thiru says:

    I have been using this device from India over an year and it works flawlessly. This also function as Gateway, so I can call my local landline no, ObiHai announce a menu, I jump to VOIP and make US calls. I just pay the local call charges. I dial into audio bridges without need to use any software or headsets.

    Perfect solution for me.

  16. Fred says:

    In France, for less than 60$, you have :

    fast (100M fiber if available, otherwise 20M ADSL2+) internet
    + unlimited landline
    + unlimited mobile phone (including unlimited 3D+ with a 3Go fair-use)
    + access to a nationwide Wifi network
    + TV

    So 80$ a month just for internet… what ?

  17. jstrellner says:

    I did this exact setup about a year ago. It ran ok, but occasionally the OBI100 did lose its connection with Google Voice and calls would not make my POTS phone ring.

    I got rid of it when I realized that 1 or 2 calls a month wasn’t worth the trouble of the setup.

  18. My setup since about 2004 has been cable internet only + cell service. I don’t miss TV subscription, and I definitely don’t miss the land line. Though, for those of you who think these things are expensive in the US, you should check out the Canadian prices. I think I pay something around $140/month for just these two.

  19. chad says:

    Have you tried calling 911 with it? Do they get your information over the ANI circuits that way if you aren’t able to speak, they can still respond? I take it that the phones are dead when there is a power failure. Call me old fashioned, but I’m sticking with my relatively cheap service from the local telco.

  20. josh says:

    that’s the problem with google, they build great software but then have this hardware phobia that keeps these projects in the hands of early adopters and away from widespread adoption

  21. saranyc says:

    Is anyone else wondering what you are doing for tv or did I miss that post?

  22. What’s with the No Emergency Service Calls? I realize this is a limitation of Google Voice, but does anybody have clarification on what this means?

    I guess I just want to know what happens if I needed to dial 911 and I am using the OBi.

  23. SteveNYC says:

    Yep, bought mine last July and it still rocks. Couldn’t believe how well it works.

    I never even think about it. Once in a while there’s a firmware update, that’s it.

    Got one for each member of my family.

    Only way it could be a bummer is if Google decided to end the free domestic calling that they announce at the end of each year for Google Voice. So far, so good.

  24. Jax says:

    I’ve been using the Obi for a few months now with Google Voice and it’s been great. I even set one up for my sister and she really likes it. As for the internet, costs are high if you go straight to the providers themselves and do not subscribe to their other services. If you want to save some $$ go through an ISP (Earthlink, AOL, etc). Sometimes they have contracted rates with the DSL/Cable companies and you can get that rate just by subscribing with them. I have cable and if I want through the cable company they would want $80 a month, going through the ISP only costs me $42..almost half the cost.

  25. Why not just use Gmail.com?

  26. Adam's Myth says:

    Vonage will negotiate to keep a customer. In 2008 I tried to quit. They offered $10/mo. I said no. They offered $5. I said yes.

    Now I can buy ObiHai and threaten Vonage again — maybe they will pay me to keep their service.

  27. Anders Borg says:

    Why on earth don’t you only use a mobile phone? The benefits are huge: one number wherever you are, integration between your phonebook and social network services, information services as well etc etc etc. And you need a mobile phone anyway. In Sweden where I live hardly anyone below 30 years of age has other than a mobile phone today.

    • Joe Talbot says:

      Because mobile phone in the US are garbage! The audio quality is horrendous due to low bit rate codecs and stacked incompatible compression algorithms. You can’t understand what’s being said in many cases, it’s that bad. Also, it’s quite unreliable. Calls won’t stay up, carriers aren’t serious about reliability. Carriers are weasels, with contracts, scams and call centers in India for “support”. If I had to use a cell phone as my only communications at home, I’d do without.

  28. Dave says:

    Interesting comments.

    I’ve used the Obi110 for a couple of months, and learned these:
    – It’s fantastic! Absolutely free phone service!
    – Free conference calling numbers cannot be called – they refuse the connection.
    – There are rare connection or quality issues, and there is no “help desk” to resolve those.
    – It allows faxes to be sent! Other VoIP services don’t work with fax, but Obi does.

    I gave mine to my son, who’s in the Army and cannot get cell phone service for his family at their house (this is a great solution for them), and I’m buying another one!

    All in all, it’s a great service, and the price cannot be beat.

  29. mikal says:

    Can you FAX?

  30. Lance Stuart says:

    Ooma works great for me. I am a user for three years already and I would say the amount I paid to purchase the product really paid off. I am able to save a lot plus enjoys free calls nationwide and low international call rates. I also like the voice quality, it’s very reliable and superb. I was able to port my number without problems and enjoys great features that they are offering. Surely, Ooma is the most consistent phone service I have ever encountered. Check out their site for more. I heard they are now offering discounts and packages: http://www.ooma.com/micro6/index.php

  31. You are right, Google should be building their own ATAs. Last weekend, I tried to connect a Yealink SIP phone (which theoretically should work) and spent 13 hours at the task without joy. My wife had to threaten me before I left it alone. I tweeted about it and got a response from ObiHai saying: “Did this blog article help with Yealink’s SIP parameter equivalents in place of the SPA504’s? http://blog.obihai.com/2012/08/use-your-obi202-as-google-voice-gateway.html

    It did not work and it should NEVER take 13 hours to configure anything. Google Voice is awesome but the pain to integrate it to the rest of the real world has a canceling effect on the awesomeness.

  32. Darren says:

    Thanks for this great article. As a result, I purchased an obi202 and easily configured mine and my wife’s google voice accounts to it. I canceled one of our home lines with vonage (easily with no fuss) and in the process was informed of special discounted rates which I asked to be applied to my other 2 lines with them, reducing my bill from $90/mo to $25/mo. I’ll eventually get my other lines ported over to google voice and have no bill at all. That’s almost $1000/yr savings. Again, thanks so much for this article. I easily configured the Obi no problem with Google Voice and had no problems canceling a line with vonage. Cheers!

    • Darren says:

      UPDATE: i am using the OBI now for a few months. Like Vonage in the early days, the call quality is usually excellent, but 10% of calls are very bad with intermittent interruptions in sound transmissions. In those cases, I have hung up and redialed with mostly good results. I suspect this will improve or there are settings i haven’t yet discovered to help.

  33. Kent norton says:

    Professionally written piece; the sys is too advanced, geeky, for most of us but a heart explanation of it

  34. SoonerPhoneGuy says:

    If you ever had conventional landline (POTS) service to your house, you should ensure that it is physically disconnected at the demarc (Network Interface Device). There could be voltage applied that could come through that line and zap your Obi.

  35. Briana says:

    Just bought the Obi. My issue is how difficult it is to port my home telephone number (land line) to google voice in order to even use the Obi. Such a hassle. Not sure it is worth it to me. You have to purchase an AT&T or T-Mobile cell phone, just to transfer your home number, then transfer your home number from the newly purchased cell phone to google voice (google voice doesn’t port home phone numbers.) After buying phone, and minutes that I will use only to port a number, I then have to pay google voice $20 to port the number. I am trying to save money, and this isn’t appealing to me at all. I may send my Obi back. I wish I had known all of this prior to purchasing it.

  36. Marcos says:

    This will change now that GV will start preventing third party apps and devices from tapping into the free calls. Check out http://1phoneapp.com . Similar premise but for mobile phones to communicate over data using your phone number all over the world.

  37. I frequently use Google voice for social interactions and it works well. However, recently I discovered another very good alternative: RHUB. Its web conferencing servers provides HD VOIP audio conferencing and it is easy to use as well.

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