Consumers can now get free home phone service by using a combination of Google Voice, an Obihai phone adapter, and an internet connection.
The home phone service includes free local and long distance calls in the US. International calls are just a few pennies per minute to many countries.
The way this works is that incoming and outgoing calls are handled by Google Voice, a free phone service from Google.
Instead of using Google Voice through your computer though, the Obihai phone adapter connects Google Voice directly to your home phone. No computer is needed to make and receive calls.
The adapter Obihai provided for us to test is their most popular model, the OBi200. It’s currently available on Amazon.com for $46.50.
Instructions for setting up free home phone service are included with the adapter. Basically it’s a matter of setting up a Google Voice account, plugging your phone into the adapter, then plugging the adapter into your internet box and an electrical outlet.
After that, you visit Obihai’s ObiTalk website and connect the adapter to Google Voice through their web panel.
Setting everything up as per Obihai’s instructions was very straight forward. In trying out the service, we had no trouble at all getting connected and making our first calls.
In testing, we found that the quality of calls using Google Voice and the Obihai adapter was easily comparable to a regular landline connection. The sound quality was actually an improvement over our previous VOIP service, PhonePower, which had been costing us $19.95/month (their no-contract plan).
The only complication we ran into when setting this up was that we wanted to port (move) our existing home phone number to Google Voice.
While new numbers are free, porting an existing number you already own to Google Voice costs $20.
Where it gets complicated, though, is that they only port in cell phone numbers, not landline numbers. VOIP numbers on services like Vonage or PhonePower are considered landline numbers.
So, to move an existing landline/VOIP number to Google Voice, it first has to be converted to a cell phone number. There’s no pretty way to do this. It can be done though. For details, see our story on How to move your existing home phone (landline) number to Google Voice.
Once you’ve got this set up, there are some cool features that come along with Google Voice. You’ll be able to send and receive texts through your home number using the Google Voice website. Voicemails can be transcribed and sent to your email inbox (or you can have calls picked up on your own answering machine). Calls can be forwarded to another phone, screened for junk calls, recorded, and conference calling is available.
There are two concerns you’ll want to be aware of before switching though.
Things Google Voice Doesn’t Support
1) 911 Service
The 911 issue is important. Because calls are carried over the internet, an add on service is needed to correctly route 911 calls to your local 911 emergency dispatch office and provide them with your home address.
Obihai recommends and supports an E911 service from Anveo for this. The cost is $15 per year and the service can be set up through the ObiTalk panel. In addition to 911 support, another nice feature with Anveo is that you can have an alert sent to your cell phone when someone makes a 911 call from your Obihai connected phone.
2) Caller ID
Caller ID is a less important issue, but not having it might be annoying to some users. When using Google Voice and Obihai by themselves, the incoming number appears as the Caller ID, but not the name of the caller.
Many modern cordless home phone systems support a contacts list. Most of these phones will recognize the number and provide the caller’s name from the contacts list, if it’s there. This works well on the phone system we are testing this with. If the caller is unknown, just the phone number appears as the ID. We let those go to voicemail.
For users that want Caller ID, Obihai recommends using an additional service, CallCentric. Users can sign up for a CallCentric number and have their Google Voice number forwarded to their CallCentric number, then the CallCentric number is connected to the Obihai device in your home. CallCentric includes Caller ID, so you’ll get the caller’s name when available. CallCentric numbers are free, but there is a required $1.50/month fee for 911 service. But if you go this route, there’s no need for the 911 service through Anveo. That’s taken care of. More on setting up CallCentric to provide Caller ID and 911 service with Google Voice and Obihai is available on Obihai’s forum here.
Coming Soon – OBiEXTRAs
Carol Green, the Senior Product Marketing Manager for Obihai, told us that they have a new set of features coming out later this month. They are called OBiEXTRAs.
OBiEXTRAs will support Caller ID using your Google contacts list – meaning that if the number calling you is listed in your Google Contacts, their name will come through on your Caller ID. It will also include OBi Voice Commands for calling people on your contact list, Custom Call Blocking, Home Alarm Monitoring, OBi Fax (faxes are delivered to your email), and support for Nest thermostats. The total cost for these extras will be $4.99/month.
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