netTALK to the Rescue: Dumping Google Voice for Less Than 10¢ a Day

The Google Voice Adventure with Asterisk® has been disappointing to put it charitably. Google never really saw the benefit of providing free phone service to millions of Americans because they never could quite figure out how to monetize the project. In the meantime, shady call centers were eating them alive with dozens if not hundreds of Google Voice trunks that were placing endless calls around the clock. The final straw was Microsoft deciding to keep Skype proprietary while adding free Google Voice connectivity to its communications products. This meant Microsoft customers had the best of all worlds while Google’s platform had no way to access Skype except through Microsoft’s proprietary client. Google decided to pull the plug on XMPP beginning May 15 of this year and more or less blamed it on abuse by the open source community for using Google’s own open source development toolkit for Google Voice.

We’ve never been one to sit around crying about spilt milk when there are plenty of other excellent choices available to the VoIP community. Today we begin our exploration of alternatives with a look at all-you-can-eat VoIP. There still are a few pure VoIP service plans available, but every one that we’ve tried leaves a bait-and-switch aftertaste. The first year may be reasonable, but once they’ve got you hooked, look out. Quite literally, they have your number. For this reason, we’ve chosen a hardware hybrid approach that still relies upon VoIP for the actual calls. Below the stratospheric pricing of the Bell Sisters, Comcast, and Vonage, there still are several wallet-friendly, all-you-can-eat VoIP products to choose from including netTALK, Ooma, and magicJack.

We know. Nothing beats free even with a little pain. But we think you’ll love today’s alternative especially given its expanded feature set and modest long-term cost. Up front hardware cost including service for the first year is about $100. Amortizing the hardware and service costs over three years reduces your investment for unlimited U.S./Canada/E911 phone service to roughly $1 a week. After recovery of your $100 hardware investment, the cost is $29.95 a year which works out to less than 10¢ a day… forever. This compares quite favorably to today’s best all-you-can-eat VoIP deal. AxVoice charges $99 for equivalent first year service and then the price escalates to over $150 for subsequent years. It doesn’t take a math major to figure out that’s 5 times the netTALK pricing beginning in Year 2.

That brings us back to Google. If you had several million happy customers already using your VoIP service and you saw a small company that was still in business charging $30 a year for a VoIP feature set that was better than yours, wouldn’t you think you might try to cash in on $100 million a year in new revenue rather than flushing the project down the toilet while shafting the open source developers that got you the customers in the first place??

Earth to Google: Few on the planet are ever going to use a web browser with Hangouts to make traditional phone calls regardless of how many places you plaster the Hangouts logo. Before you hire another Marketing Genius, read a good book or two. The well-deserved 2013 Lame Foot of the Year Award goes to Google. </rant>

Overview. Today we’ll be pairing an old friend, the OBi110, with the unlimited calling options provided by netTALK. When we’re finished, you’ll have a drop-in replacement for Google Voice on your Asterisk server that provides unlimited calling within the U.S. and Canada, plus free calling to other netTALK and OBi users around the world, plus free 911 emergency service for you and your family, plus voicemail delivery by email, and fax support. And you can keep your existing phone number! All of the existing PBX in a Flash and Incredible PBX features still work exactly as they do today without worrying about Google pulling the rug out from under you… again. With the OBiON app for iOS or Android, you can make free calls from your cellphone using today’s netTALK-OBi110 setup. And, if calls from a cellphone aren’t your thing, when you go on vacation to anywhere with an Internet connection, you can slip the netTALK device into your suitcase and plug it in to the Internet at your destination without ever losing the ability to make and receive free calls. We’ll cover all these magic tricks and more today so hang on to your hat. Let’s get started.

Legal Disclaimer. This is not legal advice. Consult your own attorney for that. We have reviewed netTALK’s Terms of Service and find nothing that would preclude your using the services as described in this article so long as the device is used in the United States, usage is under 3,000 minutes per month, and usage is limited to “normal residential or home office usage patterns” without “auto-dialing, continuous or extensive call forwarding, telemarketing, fax broadcasting or fax blasting.” Terms of service can and do change from time to time. Review them regularly.

BY IMPLEMENTING THE TIPS IN THIS TUTORIAL, YOU AGREE TO ASSUME ALL RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH THE METHODOLOGY INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE LEGAL AND FINANCIAL CONSEQUENCES OF YOUR ACTIONS. IF YOU ARE UNWILLING TO DO SO, STOP READING HERE!

Hardware Requirements. Here’s what you’ll need. First, purchase a netTALK device. You have several choices. The netTALK DUO is still available for under $50 and includes a full year of unlimited calling in the U.S. and Canada. The netTALK DUO II is the newer model (with the same feature set). It sells for about $30 but only includes three months of free calling. The netTALK DUO WiFi is about $60 and adds WiFi support. Additional years of free calling in the U.S. and Canada are $29.95 with a guarantee of no price escalation as long as you continue the service without interruption. You can add free calling to 60+ countries for an additional $10 a month. Unlimited SMS messaging in the U.S. and Canada is an additional $2.50 a month. AT&T charges $20 a month for unlimited SMS messaging, and it only works on a single cell phone.

In addition to your Asterisk server, the other piece for today’s puzzle is OBiHai’s OBi110, a terrific analog telephone adapter that we’ll use to connect the netTALK adapter to your Asterisk server. If you want to connect a Google Voice account for a few more months, it can do that as well. It also supports a connection to another SIP provider of your choice for redundancy. For today, our focus is getting a Google Voice replacement service in place for your Asterisk server. You can scour the Internet to add the other pieces. The OBi110 is available through Amazon for under $50.1

Installing and Configuring the netTALK Duo

Before your netTALK Duo will work, it has to be registered on the netTALK web site. Locate your temporary username and password for the NetTalk DUO inside the box. Log into the web site and click Start Activation. Plug in your credentials and click LOGIN. Fill out the registration information and create a username and password for your new account. Then press CONTINUE. Complete the E911 information and click SAVE. Select a phone number and ASSIGN it to your account. Now plug a plain-old phone into your netTalk Duo, connect the device to your LAN, and then connect the power adapter. Some routers are problematic. Be sure SIP ALG is disabled on your router. It took about 5 minutes for ours to change from alternating green and red lights to a solid green light and the one-ring call indicating that the device is operating properly. Once you get the solid green light, make a call to the device and from the device. Nothing else works if the netTALK can’t make calls! Once it’s working, you can unplug the phone and use it to configure the OBi110 in the next section.

Installing and Configuring the OBi110

There are a number of steps to the OBi110 setup, but it isn’t difficult. If you can handle slice-and-bake cookies, you can do this. Just follow the recipe and don’t skip any steps. We’ll be configuring the OBi110 in two phases using the OBiTalk web site first and then using the OBi110′s built-in web server. Plug the OBi110 into your LAN and then attach the power adapter. Plug a POTS phone into the PHONE port of your OBi110. Once the OBi110 has booted, pick up the phone and make sure you have a dial tone. Then hang up.

IMPORTANT: Make sure that you restore the OBi to its factory default settings if you have previously used the device! ALWAYS keep your OBi110 behind a hardware-based firewall with NO Internet port exposure!

Now head over to the OBi web portal and set up an account if you don’t already have one. From the OBi Dashboard, click ADD DEVICE. Uncheck the box to set up a Google Voice account. You can do that later if desired. Now pick up the phone connected to the OBi110 and dial **5 plus the 4-digit number shown in your browser. This will identify your device to OBiTalk. Your OBi110 will appear in a dialog box for confirmation. Click CONFIRM promptly, or start over.

In the Device Configuration window that appears, add a Device Display Name, Webpage Admin PW, OBi Attendant PIN, and your TimeZone. SAVE your settings. The OBi110 should now appear in the OBi Dashboard with its assigned OBi number and speed dial number together with a Green status icon signifying it’s working.

Now is a good time to download the OBiON app to your iOS device or Android phone. Launch the app and login with your OBiTalk account information. In the OBi Dashboard, you will note that your softphone now has appeared and was assigned a 9-digit OBiTALK number. Write it down. You’ll need it in a minute to complete the OBi110 setup. Click on the Edit icon for the softphone and assign your OBi110 as the OBi Voice Gateway. SAVE your settings.

For the remainder of the OBi110 setup, we’ll be using the web interface built into the OBi110. If you don’t know the IP address of your OBi110, pick up the phone connected to your OBi and dial ***1.

1. Use your browser to log into the OBi110′s web interface. Log in with admin:admin as the username:password.

2. Once you’re logged into your OBi110′s web interface, the Setup Wizard will display. Expand the first five headings in the left column by clicking on the + icons for Status, System Management, Service Providers, Voice Services, and Physical Interfaces. Then expand ITSP Profile B under Service Providers.

3. Download the latest firmware from here to your desktop. Currently it’s 1.3.0 (Build: 2824). Install it on your device: Device Update -> Firmware Update. Your OBi110 will restart after loading the new firmware.

4. Disable ALL AutoProvisioning: Auto Provisioning -> Firmware Updates, ITSP Provisioning, OBiTalk Provisioning. Then Submit and Reboot.

This keeps external forces from stepping on your setup once it’s working. If something breaks down the road, you can manually provision your device once you know what’s broken.

5. While not absolutely necessary, we recommend you set a static IP address for your OBi110: Network Settings -> Internet Settings. Submit and Reboot. Using your browser, log back into the new IP address.

Another alternative is to permanently lock the DHCP-assigned IP address to the OBi110 using the web interface of your router.

6. Open the SIP profile under ITSP Profile B. Here you’ll need to insert the IP address of your Asterisk server in BOTH the ProxyServer and X_AccessList fields. Also add a check mark for X_SpoofCallerID. Before you can add these entries, you’ll need to uncheck the Default checkbox beside each entry. This applies to all further steps as well. After making the three entries, click Submit and Reboot.

7. Open the SP2 Service window. For X_ServProvProfile and X_CodecProfile, change the settings to B. Change X_InboundCallRoute to LI. Add a check mark for X_KeepAliveEnable. Change X_KeepAliveServerPort and X_UserAgentPort to 5061.

In the SIP Credentials section, change AuthUserName to obitrunk. Make up a secure password and insert it in the AuthPassword field. Remember the password! We’ll need it to configure your Asterisk trunk in a minute. For the URI entry, use the following with the actual IP address of your Asterisk server: obitrunk@192.168.0.82. Double-check all nine entries carefully and then click Submit and Reboot.

8. In the OBiTalk Service Settings window, change the InboundCallRoute to an entry that looks like this: {pp(ob290999999),li}. We recommend you cut-and-paste our example and then replace 290999999 with the 9-digit OBiTalk number that was assigned to your softphone above. A punctuation error here will block your softphone from ever working. Click Submit and Reboot.

9. Finally, we need to configure the LINE Port. For the InboundCallRoute, insert the following using the 10-digit phone number assigned to your netTALK Duo: SP2(6781234567). For the SilenceTimeThreshold, set the number of seconds you want the OBi110 to wait before disconnecting a call where nobody at the other end of the call says anything. We recommend 600 which is 10 minutes. Click Submit and Reboot.

10. Now it’s time to connect your netTALK Duo to your OBi110. Unplug any phone connected to the netTALK Duo. Using a telephone cable, connect the PHONE port of the netTALK Duo to the LINE port of the OBi110. Never plug the netTALK Duo into the PHONE port of the OBi110, or your OBi is (burnt) toast!!!

11. Test your configuration. Pick up the phone that’s still connected to the OBi110 and dial either a 10-digit or 11-digit number of someone you love: 8005551212 or 18005551212. Do the same thing using the OBiON app on your cellphone or tablet. Be patient! OBiON connections are not instantaneous. Your connections have to be authenticated through OBiHai’s servers before they go through.

Interconnecting Asterisk with the OBi110

There basically are three pieces you need to add to Asterisk so that it can communicate with your netTALK Duo and OBi110. You need a Trunk to which the OBi110 will register. You need an Inbound Route to tell Asterisk how to handle incoming calls from the netTALK Duo phone number. And you need an Outbound Route to tell Asterisk which outgoing calls should be routed out through the netTALK Duo. We’re assuming you will be using the netTALK Duo as your primary trunk for outbound AND emergency calls. We’re also assuming you will not be making international calls. Finally, we’re assuming you are using FreePBX 2.11 with either PBX in a Flash or with one of the Incredible PBX builds on the CentOS 6.5, Raspbian, or Ubuntu platforms. Other FreePBX 2.11 setups should work in much the same way. If any of these assumptions don’t apply, you’ll obviously need to make the necessary adjustments for your environment.

Trunk Configuration. To set up the obitrunk under FreePBX 2.11, log into FreePBX and choose Connectivity -> Trunks -> Add SIP Trunk. For the Trunk Name, use obitrunk. For Outbound Caller ID, enter the 10-digit phone number assigned to your netTALK Duo. For Maximum Channels, use 1. For Dialed Number Manipulation Rules, add the following Match Patterns: 1NXXNXXXXXX, NXXNXXXXXX, and 911.

In Outgoing Settings, use obitrunk for Trunk Name and enter the following PEER Details:
type=peer
host=dynamic
port=5061
disallow=all
allow=ulaw
dtmfmode=rfc2833

In Incoming Settings, enter your actual 10-digit netTalk phone number in the User Context field: 6781234567. Enter the following USER Details replacing mypassword with the password you set up in OBi110 step #7 SIP credentials above and adjusting the permit entry to match your LAN subnet:
type=friend
secret=mypassword
host=dynamic
context=from-trunk
canreinvite=no
nat=yes
port=5061
qualify=yes
dtmfmode=rfc2833
disallow=all
allow=ulaw
deny=0.0.0.0/0.0.0.0
permit=192.168.0.0/255.255.255.0

Click Submit Changes and Apply Config to save your entries.

Inbound Route Configuration. If you already have a default inbound route on your Asterisk server, then you can skip this step unless you want incoming calls from the netTALK DID routed in a special way. To create an inbound route for the netTALK phone number, choose Connectivity -> Inbound Routes -> Add Incoming Route. For the Description, enter netTALK-OBi110. For the DID Number, enter your 10-digit netTALK phone number. For CID Lookup Source, choose CallerID Superfecta if you’re using this module. For Set Destination, choose how you want FreePBX to route the incoming calls, i.e. an extension, ring group, IVR, etc.

Click Submit and Apply Config to save your entries.

Outbound Route Configuration. If you want all 10-digit, 11-digit, and 911 calls placed from your Asterisk server to be routed out through the netTALK Duo, then you’d Add a Route under Connectivity -> Outbound Routes that looks something like the following. Don’t forget to move this Outbound Route (in the right column) to the TOP of your list of Outbound Routes to make certain it is processed first by FreePBX.

For Route Name, use obiout. For Dial Patterns, use the same ones you used in your Trunk setup above: 1NXXNXXXXXX, NXXNXXXXXX, and 911. For Trunk Sequence, select obitrunk.

Click Submit Changes and Apply Config to save your entries.

While still in Outbound Routes, drag obiout to the top of the outbound routes list in the right column. Then click Apply Config again to save your trunk processing sequence.

Verifying Connectivity. Let’s be sure everything works. First, log back into the IP address of your OBi110 and verify that System Status -> SP2 Service Status shows the OBi110 is registered to your Asterisk server. Next place a 10-digit call using an extension on your Asterisk server and monitor the Asterisk CLI to make certain that the call went out using the netTALK Duo trunk and was completely successfully. Finally, use your cellphone to call the number assigned to your netTALK Duo. The call should ring on the devices you configured in the Inbound Route above. Enjoy your new freedom from Google Voice!

Special Thanks. We want to express our appreciation to ObiHai for an excellent Administrator’s Guide and to the numerous individuals who have wrestled with the OBi110 setup over the years. This includes Adrian Li, Ad_Hominem and MichiganTelephone on the OBiTalk Forum as well as the reference articles which now are available here.

Originally published: Tuesday, January 7, 2014




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5 Responses to “netTALK to the Rescue: Dumping Google Voice for Less Than 10¢ a Day”

  1. Reuven says:

    I read this lengthy and informative article and am a bit puzzled: why do I need the OBi110 device? Can’t I just simply use the netTALK device and have the phone service?

    I feel lost…

    [WM: You absolutely can use netTALK by itself if you don't want to interconnect netTALK with an Asterisk PBX. Just plug in a phone or cordless phone set and you're off to the races.]

  2. Rrrr says:

    Why can’t the OBI guys work with netTALK?
    I see many synergies between them. The OBI guys must be interested now they see someone can actually charge something with Google Voice (going) out of the way. Then WE don’t have to buy a new netTALK ATA…

    [WM: The OBi folks are aware of the article. Let's leave it at that.]

  3. Glenn says:

    So, theoretically, this is also possible to do with a MagicJack device. Can you confirm?

    [WM: Should work fine, but we have not yet tested it.]

  4. Rob says:

    I just got the confidence from this to connect my existing NetTalk adapter with a Dahdi/FXO card. These go for about $32 on ebay from China. Seems to be working well.

    Thanks

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