You don’t have to be a soothsayer to appreciate what’s about to happen in the VoIP community. In just two weeks, millions of telephones in the United States are about to go silent. Let’s begin with what we know and don’t know about Google Voice and Google’s May 15 deadline. Google has made it crystal clear that XMPP connectivity to Google Voice is going away on May 15. What that means is that inbound and outbound calling using an XMPP connection to Google Voice will no longer work, period. And the platform really doesn’t matter. That includes Asterisk, FreePBX, FreeSwitch, Yate, and GrooVe IP as well as hardware ATAs such has ObiHai devices. Why? The short answer is because Google says so, and they are/were paying the bills. The longer answer is that companies such as Microsoft and Apple that have proprietary communications platforms were not reciprocating with free connectivity to their services in the same way that Google was providing XMPP service. Another probable reason is that Google was taking a financial bath on Google Voice services which were being abused by many commercial organizations. Reportedly, as many as three to five million DIDs have been handed out as part of the Google Voice project with very little return on investment.
Some have suggested this is just another tempest in a teapot like Y2K. After all, Y2K came and went without many catastrophes. The difference is that businesses spent hundreds of millions of dollars preparing for Y2K to make certain there were no train wrecks. With Google Voice, many individuals have taken the ostrich approach with their heads buried in the sand pretending things are just going to work out. Without some effort on the part of those still using Google Voice, May 15 will be their Julius Caesar moment.
What to Do? One school of thought is that the “old fashioned” Google Voice connections using Python which simulated a web call with Google Chat will still function. If receiving and placing calls using your existing Google Voice numbers matters to you, take the opinions of these self-proclaimed experts with a grain of salt. Here’s what you need to appreciate. First, nobody outside of Google actually knows whether the Python approach will continue to function or not. Second, even if it works on May 15, nothing would preclude Google from making “adjustments” at any time that would disable this functionality. They’ve done it before. They can do it again. And Google has made it abundantly clear that they’re putting an end to the free gravy train. Third, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that PSTN call forwarding using Google Voice may be the next axe to fall. This probably won’t happen on May 15, but who knows. Finally, should you decide to go down this road, be aware that it is a major coding project regardless of your platform. But, if this is the road you wish to travel, you can find some tips on making the transition here. You’ve been warned.
The Smarter Approach. Our recommendations today are limited to those in the United States. Our apologies, but that’s two-thirds of our readership and roughly 95% of those that currently rely upon Google Voice. The same recommendations apply to those in Europe and South America and the Far East if calls to destinations in the U.S. are a major part of your VoIP traffic. What do we recommend? First, become VoIP savvy! The provider you use for outbound calls need not be the provider you use for incoming calls. Not putting all your eggs in one basket is a very good idea in the VoIP world.
Call us Chicken Little if you must, but Outbound Calling with Google Voice is going away on May 15. So, in the next two weeks, you definitely need to come up with an alternative for call terminations in the U.S./Canada market. We think you have two options: purchase an all-you-can-eat plan that includes sufficient outbound calling minutes to meet your existing requirements. Or you can select a provider that offers pay by the minute service for all of your outbound calls. One advantage with most of the pay-by-the-minute providers is that you can set your CallerID as desired. Don’t be misled by the all-you-can-eat claims. Every VoIP provider imposes some sort of cap on outbound calling even if their plan is advertised as “unlimited.” If your outbound calling minutes exceed 2000-3000 minutes a month, you’re going to be looking for a new provider within weeks because every provider that we know will drop you like a hot potato when you are no longer profitable in their business model. The other gotcha is that most, if not all, of the all-you-can-eat plans are restricted to residential (non-business) use.
Full Disclosure: We have a favorite all-you-can-eat provider (Vestalink) and a favorite pay-as-you-go provider (Vitelity), and both of them provide some financial support to the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects; however, both were our favorites before they provided any support to our projects.
All-You-Can-Eat Calling Plans. We continue to like Vestalink (formerly Obivoice) even though their prices have increased since the release of our original article. That’s actually a good thing. There was no way they could have stayed in business with their original pricing model. On a new 2-year plan with unlimited U.S./Canada inbound AND outbound calls, E911 service, and a free DID in your choice of area codes, the current rate for 24 months is $89.99 which works out to roughly $3.50 a month. The service comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Another option which we previously have covered is a hardware device such as the netTALK Duo. With an upfront $100 hardware investment, you get the same features as Vestalink for $30 a year which works out to less than 10¢ a day. With both services, you have the option of porting your existing Google Voice number for a one-time fee. With Vestalink, you also have the option of spoofing your outbound CallerID number with your existing Google Voice number once it is verified as belonging to you. We prefer the latter approach at least until Google gives some hint that their call forwarding of incoming Google Voice calls is going away. Both services are bargains in our view. But, as we noted, for residential service we still prefer the pure VoIP solution provided by Vestalink.
Pay-As-You-Go Call Terminations. Most of the reputable pay-by-the-minute providers charge between 1¢ and 2¢ a minute for outbound calls with charges billed in 6 to 10-second increments. Unless you make an enormous number of lengthy calls, these rates are a bargain. Vitelity remains our favorite provider primarily because of the flexibility their service offers in setting up multiple sub-accounts for use with Asterisk or FreeSwitch. A sign-up link with a 50% discount on most DIDs is provided here and at the end of this article. We appreciate your support of our VoIP projects!!
While it is not yet officially available, the most compelling reason to switch to Vitelity is vMobile, a new $9.99/month cellphone plan that will integrate your Vitelity cellphone (actually a Samsung Galaxy S III) directly into your Asterisk setup. What that means is calls to extensions on your Asterisk server will also ring on your cellphone. And your cellphone functions exactly like any other extension on your Asterisk server whether you’re operating on 3G, 4G, or LTE networks as well as on WiFi at your home or office. You’ll be able to park calls, transfer calls, set up call monitoring, conferencing, and recording just as if you were on a standard VoIP phone in your home or office. And you can’t beat the price. Inbound and outbound calls on WiFi are totally free. Calls received or placed over what appears to be Sprint’s nationwide network are 2¢ a minute, about the same cost as pure VoIP calls.
For pay-by-the-minute terminations, we always recommend you set up accounts with multiple providers. Then, by setting multiple trunk sequences in your outbound routes, you’ll always have successful calls even when a particular provider happens to have an outage. Other than perhaps a small deposit, redundancy costs you nothing since you only pay for calls that you actually place through each provider. For a current list of our favorite termination providers in both the U.S. and Canada, see this thread on the PIAF Forum.
Handling Incoming VoIP Calls. Here’s the bottom line. The one thing you don’t want to do is risk losing your phone number because of the Google Voice train wreck. We have noticed a dramatic difference in call reliability for incoming calls over the past few months. Perhaps it’s an upstream provider problem… and perhaps not. Whatever the reason, get your phone numbers ported out of Google Voice as quickly as you can. It doesn’t have to be in the next two weeks, but you are well advised to begin the porting process soon. The Nerd Vittles Vitelity link will get you a monthly rate of $3.95 for a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls each month and automatic server failover. There are a few less expensive DID providers but, when it comes to our phone number, we’ve always wanted a provider with rock-solid reliability, flexibility, and a proven track record. Vitelity meets those requirements in spades. As we noted at the outset, the other advantage in separating out your inbound and outbound trunks is that, when service gets disrupted (and it happens to the best of providers), you’re not completely dead in the water.
For the short term, so long as you have an existing DID in the U.S. or Canada, you can forward your incoming Google Voice calls to that DID by simply adding it as a call forwarding destination in your Google Voice profile. We also recommend adding your cellphone as an additional call forwarding destination. Finally, be sure to disable the Google Chat option in your Google Voice setup and remove the Google Voice trunk in your FreePBX Google Voice/Motif setup. Good luck!
Originally published: Thursday, May 1, 2014
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