It’s only January, but we already have a winner for 2011 VoIP Device of the Year. Once in a very long while, a device comes along that’s not only revolutionary but also incredibly useful while being downright simple to use. Did we mention inexpensive? So it is with the Obihai OBi110 which fills a niche that’s been screaming for a simple solution.
Google turned the telephony world upside down last year by offering U.S. residents a free local phone number and free calling in the U.S. and Canada. But you had to use a PC to make the calls, or you had to become at least a junior rocket scientist with either Asterisk® or FreeSwitch to make Google Voice calls using a regular telephone. Well, as they say, that’s so yesterday. Meet the unassuming Obihai OBi110. It’s a little box about the size of a pack of cigarettes if you remember those. But, under the covers, this is no ordinary ATA device. Plug it into your DSL or cable modem, attach a standard telephone or your favorite cordless phone, and in less than a minute you’ll be making and receiving calls with your Google Voice credentials.
If you’ve followed our previous articles on Google Voice, you already know that you’ll need a dedicated Google account to get things working properly because the OBi110 uses the Google Talk protocol just as Gmail does. So sign up for a new Gmail account, then log into google.com/voice with your new Gmail credentials. Choose a number in your favorite area code and use an existing phone number to activate the account. Once registered, click on Settings, Voice Settings. Check the Google Chat option to activate Google Talk. Then click on the Calls tab, turn off Call Screening, and click Save Settings. That’s all there is to setting up your new Google Voice account for use.
Now plug in your OBi110, connect it to your network so that it can obtain an IP address from a DHCP server, and plug in a Plain Old Telephone. Pick up the phone and dial * * * 1 to obtain the IP address of your OBi110. Now, with your web browser open, click on this link. Fill in the blanks using the IP address of the OBi110 on your LAN and your Gmail name and password. Click the Configure button, and you’re done. After the device restarts, download the latest firmware for your OBi to your desktop, and then install it from the web interface to your OBi by choosing System Management -> Device Update.
Before you can actually make outbound calls with the OBi110, you may need to make one call from your browser by clicking the Call Phone option under Chat in the Gmail account you just created. When the dialer appears, enter a 10-digit phone number and press the Enter key. This lets you acknowledge that Google Voice does not support 911 emergency calling. Be sure to log out of this Gmail account once you complete the test call. You can’t be logged in and also use the OBi110. That’s why we set up a dedicated Google account for this device. Guess what? You’re done.
You can buy the Obihai OBi110 from Amazon for $50 including free shipping. It’s the best $50 you’ll ever spend!
2/6 Update: Since this article was released, over 85,000 folks that frequent SlickDeals.net have been pointed here so there’s a momentary shortage of OBi devices. 🙂 They should be back in stock at Amazon at the original $50 price by early next week so don’t buy from the resellers that doubled the price. Start searching for OBihai and OBi110 on Amazon about Monday, February 7. In the meantime, there are over 25 pages of comments on SlickDeals.net to keep you entertained. Here’s a golden nugget from AllThumbs to get those of you that snagged a unit started using the numerous OBi features in addition to Google Voice:
Simply connect a regular telephone cable between the LINE port of the OBi110 and the PHONE jack of an Ooma, MagicJack, Vonage adapter, Comcast phone adapter, etc. and the inbound calls from your other service will ring on the desktop phones or cordless phones connected to the OBi’s PHONE port. For outbound calls, you can pick up a phone connected to the OBi PHONE port and dial **8 plus a 10-digit number to send the call out through your other service while dialing a regular 10-digit number will send the call out through Google Voice. You can also enable a Circle of Friends by CallerID that can dial into the OBi from anywhere using the OBi Google Voice number, enter a PIN, and dial out through any of the other OBi-enabled service providers.
If you configure the other OBi SIP connection (no wire required other than the network connection) to an extension on an Asterisk/PBX in a Flash machine or a SIP provider such as Vitelity, voip.ms, les.net, DIDforsale, or SIPgate, then you can make outbound calls for a penny or two a minute in the U.S. by dialing **2 plus a 10-digit number. None of these features or service providers take more than a couple minutes to set up, and all have web-based configuration utilities. When you’re finished with the set up, you’ll have a phone system with triple redundancy as long as your network connection stays up. And, if that worries you and you want network redundancy as well, plug your Ma Bell phone line into the LINE port instead of an Ooma or MagicJack.
For the Whiz Kids. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what you can do with the OBi110. It’s easy to configure it for use with other SIP services or your own Asterisk server. Start by reading Marcelo Rodriguez’s Setup Guide on Voxilla and then read the excellent series of articles on the Michigan Telephone Blog. Enjoy!
Originally published: Thursday, February 3, 2011
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