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A free landline alternative – configuring the OBI device and Google Voice

May 7, 2012

Configuring the OBI device

If you have decided to use Google Voice as a substitute to your landline, the easiest path is to buy an Ethernet to telephony adapter from Obihai. The ATA adapters from Obihai come into multiple flavors. I picked the simplest, the OBI 100.

The main difference between Obihai and the other ATA adapters available on the marketplace is that it’s really simple to install and configure. You don’t need to be a Cisco certified engineer or a geek familiar with the VoIP forums like this one.

Once the adapter is connected to the Ethernet and powered on, the configuration is driven from the Web site of Obihai.

I just took a few screen shots of the setup screens:

The device registration screen: you just have to give it a name and pick a time zone

After the device has been registered, the second step is to pair it with your VoIP service (in our case, Google Voice). First have a look at the disclaimer. Remember that officially, Google Voice is a chat service. It does not support 911 services. If you absolutely want (or need) your IP land line to be tied to E911, there are specialzed third party E911 services providers.

The disclaimer – Google Voice is a Chat application, not a true telephony service

The last step is to tie your OBI device with your Google Voice account.

Just enter your Gmail address and password

Once the adapter is configured, it is a good idea to check the setup your home router and to associate permanently the Mac address of the OBI device with a particular IP address (using DHCP address reservation, not static IPs, please). It will limit the risks of conflict when the router has to be rebooted.

Test you new line, and call all your friends to share the good news – for free.

Transferring your landline number to your Google Voice line

If you’ve followed this guide step by step, you’ve been using the phone number provided by Google when you signed in for Google Voice. But you may want to port your old land line number to your new Google Voice service. It’s possible, and it’s going to cost you approximately $ 45.00.

Before you start the process, check the Google Voice Support Forum. Scary, isn’t it? Even if you have faith in Google and are not easily discouraged, consider this:

Firstly, Google Voice is a free service with no real SLA (service level agreement) and no support. Porting your number will probably work, but if it does not, it may be difficult to have it fixed.

Secondly, Google Voice can only transfer mobile numbers. You will have first to transfer your old land line number to a cell phone service (a pay as you go service such as ATT GoPhone is the simplest option), and the service will have to be active (a Google robot will call that number during the verification process, and the transfer process won’t start until the verification is complete). The cheapest pay as you go subscription (with its limited quota of minutes) will cost you approximately $25.

Thirdly, Google’s verification process (I don’t know if it’s by design or just the result of a poor implementation) is highly unreliable. It took me multiple attempts over quite a few weeks to finally go through. Once the verification process is complete, the transfer process in itself is uneventful, but getting through “verification” is an ordeal.

Let’s follow the steps. Supposing your Google Voice number is 404-001-0001 and that the old land line number you want to port 404-999-9999.

Click the Change/Port link, and then ob Port the Mobile Number button

Google will verify that your old number – which is now your mobile number – can be ported. I used an ATT GoPhone and had no problem.

Checking whether your mobile number (404-999-9999) can be ported to Google Voice.


Good news. It’s possible

Another screen

You will only have to pay at the end of the process, after the verification has been completed

The tricky part now – Google’s verification process. A robot will call your cell phone, and you will have to dial the two digits showing on the screen. For whatever reason, this step failed repeatedly when I was trying to port my number. I tried all the GSM phones I could find, I tried all the tricks recommended by the forums. To no avail. It was always rejected. Until one day I went through.

To this date, I don’t know whether it was simply a bug, or the result of quotas imposed by the carriers.

The dreaded verification screen

Once you’ve passed the verification, you have one last hurdle to jump. Google will ask you the account number of your cell phone. Which is nowhere to be found if you’re using ATT’s GoPhone service. And the automated help line did not have that option in its menus (no customer service center for GoPhone customers). I had to go to an ATT store and ask for it. It took an attendant 20 seconds to find the contract number on his terminal. Of course, I had to re-iniate the whole process again with Google, but the verification went like a breeze that time. I paid the $20 transfer fee, and two or three days later, the number was transferred. And it’s been working ever since.

6 months later

It’s still free. At the end of last year, Google confirmed that Google Voice would remain free for another year. In my experience, the Google Voice service has been 100% reliable. I had to reconfigure the wireless LAN at home once (I now have a primary Wifi LAN (802.11n at 5GHz), and a secondary LAN (802.11G at 2.4GHz) for a few slower devices. The call quality has been very good, and I can stay on line for hours (on conference calls) without any problem. All in all, converting my landline to Google Voice cost me less than $100 (Obi adapter, GoPhone subscription and minutes, Google Voice fee for porting the number) and is saving me $50 per month. I wish all my home improvement projects had a two months pay-back.

Not sure this old Apple slogan really represents my experience with Google Voice; “Keep trying, it will work ultimately” is closer to reality


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