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Nerd Nirvana: Free Google Voice Calling Returns to Asterisk

Lips from Google with Gizmo5In what can only be described as a telephony game changer, Google Voice this past weekend expanded the scope of its offering by providing transparent SIP connectivity through Gizmo5 for inbound and outbound calling. Simply stated, you now can connect virtually any telephone to Google Voice using a garden-variety Internet connection. And the phone can be almost any SIP telephone or a standard home telephone plugged into a $40 ATA. Letting folks make click-to-dial calls through a PC is too geeky for most. But today's offering is a new animal. Google Voice now works with regular telephones.

Did we mention that you get a free phone number of your choice in almost any area code? Did we mention that every call you make throughout the United States and Canada is free? And, believe it or not, transparent Asterisk® support works out of the box as well. If your bread and butter business is SIP termination services in the United States (Are you listening, Vonage and Comcast?), then today probably isn't going to be your lucky day. For everyone else, it may just be remembered as the most important telephony development since the breakup of Ma Bell's monopoly. And now it's clear why Google Voice reserved a million DIDs. They're going to need every one of them... and more! Meet your New Phone Company®, Goliath Google, Inc. What Google Voice was missing was a simple interface to standard telephones, softphones, and SIP. Gizmo5 provides all of those missing pieces... and so much more. How about an almost-free Skype interface for openers.

As many of you know, we were ecstatic when Google Voice arrived with free U.S. calling, voice mail transcription, and SIP connectivity to Asterisk. Our solution lasted less than a week until Google slammed the SIP door and spoiled our party. So we shifted gears and showed you how to use a free Gizmo account and a free Google Voice account to make free SIP calls using Asterisk. Well, that lasted about a week as well although Craig Walker, who founded GrandCentral and now serves as the Google Voice Product Manager, responded to my inquiry about SIP support saying it sounded like a good idea and they would consider it once the initial Google Voice rollout was complete. Guess what? They've kept their promise.

Ironically, we had planned to introduce a new Google Voice solution for Asterisk today and were putting the finishing touches on the article when this news broke over the weekend. We've decided to postpone that discussion because, frankly, the Google Voice-Gizmo5 SIP marriage is the right way to go. It's straight-forward. It's proven technology. It's rock-solid reliable. And it's FREE!

Newly discovered issues with both security and Gizmo5's business model as pertains to making calls through Google Voice have given us pause in recommending the solution described below. In a nutshell, the solution below requires that you provide your Google email credentials to Gizmo5 in order to make the connection to Google Voice for free unlimited 20-minute 3-minute calling. Late yesterday, Gizmo5 announced a new 2¢ per minute fee for Google Voice calling (now described as Gizmo Voice). Yuck!

Even if you don't mind a stranger having unfettered access to your Gmail account, your Google credentials also may be used for other Google services including Google Checkout. Without a clearly defined business relationship between Google and Gizmo5, this would be a huge security risk. Having read several articles which hinted at a business relationship between Google and Gizmo5, we put our security concerns aside. However, when Gizmo5 began changing the ground rules for these calls (almost daily), it raised red flags that Google might not, in fact, be either a business partner or even a willing participant in Gizmo5's creation. As events continued to unfold, we have discovered that Gizmo5 may, in fact, be using a connection process that is not unlike the one we had planned to introduce this week anyway. And we have no business relationship with Google.

Bottom Line: Whether you are using an Asterisk server or not, WAIT! We have an equivalent, secure solution which is now available at no cost. We recommend you disable your Gizmo5-Google Voice setup if you already have put it in place and change your Gmail password! Then read the new Nerd Vittles article for a secure way to connect to Google Voice for free calling.

Our plan today is to show you the easy way to connect Asterisk to Google Voice through Gizmo5 to make free outbound phone calls and to receive free incoming calls. We'll leave the setup for a SIP phone, a generic Asterisk server, and an analog adapter such as the PAP2T-NA for another day. But we'll get to them sooner rather than later.

So, altogether now, welcome back... Googlified Messaging™. Before we begin...

Accounting 101. We hear you asking, "How long can the calls be free?" The short answer is probably not forever but long enough to run just about everyone else out of the business. Beyond that, what we see in our crystal ball pretty much lines up with Tim O'Reilly's talk at OSCON last week. And, at some point, Google may give you a choice of paying for the calls or perhaps volunteering to be their guinea pig for the mother of all indexing experiments. You'd agree to let them record your voice calls without identifying you individually. Then they could transcribe and index all of the keywords in your conversation and use those to identify buying trends, favorite movies, whatever. Remember, you can already say "Pizza" on your iPhone and get a list of nearby pizza parlors so this isn't as far-fetched as you may think. And keep in mind that, in some states, you only need the permission of one party to a telephone conversation to make a recording. Thanks to Amazon, it's been quite a resurgence for Big Brother. We thought we'd join the party with a little Orwellian hypothesizing of our own.

Step #1. If you're starting from scratch, the easiest way to get everything working today including Asterisk is to begin by installing PBX in a Flash, and then run the Orgasmatron Installer. This puts all the pieces in the proper places, and you'll be up and running in under an hour. For the complete soup-to-nuts tutorial, start here.

Step #2. You obviously still need a free Google Voice account to use Google Voice or Google Voice Dialing through Gizmo5. So that's next. If you don't have a Google Voice account, you can request an invite here. Our non-scientific survey suggests that it's taking less than a month to get an invite after you apply. YMMV! Once you have a Google Voice account and a local phone number (Google has reserved a million of them so... not to worry!), then you're all set.

Step #3. Next, you need a Gizmo5 account. If you don't have one, you can sign up for one within FreePBX once you run the Orgasmatron Installer. Or, you can download a Gizmo5 softphone and sign up that way. We're not sure it's required, but be charitable. Put a little money in your Gizmo5 Call Out account. You'll have it for a rainy day or international calling.

Step #4. We'll set up at least one forwarding phone number in your Google Voice account to match your Gizmo5 number. You don't have to actually use it, but it does have to be registered as one of your GV forwarding numbers. Unlike our previous SIP tutorials about Google Voice, you no longer have to configure your Google Voice account to forward all incoming calls to voicemail. As you may recall, this allowed you to call your Google Voice number and press a few keys to make an outbound call instead of listening to your voicemails. With the new Google Voice-Gizmo5 SIP offering, you no longer have to jump through all those hoops. It's a straight SIP-to-SIP-to-SIP connection from your Asterisk server to Gizmo5 to Google Voice.

Step #5. To use Asterisk for incoming calls through Google Voice, you can designate a forwarding number in Google Voice that connects to one or more extensions on your Asterisk system whenever anyone calls your Google Voice number. All you really need for this is one DID. This could be your Gizmo5 number, or it could be a free IPkall or SIPgate DID that's pointed to an extension or ring group on your Asterisk server. Since all of these calls are free, the area code of the DID really doesn't matter. The only number that will really matter to your callers is your main Google Voice number so be sure to select one for your hometown. Incidentally, you can add other forwarding numbers in Google Voice that will ring simultaneously with the DID on your Asterisk server. This could be your vacation home, your cell phone, or even your office phone.

Getting Started. We're going to be jumping back and forth between your Google Voice account, your Gizmo5 account, and the FreePBX web interface to your Asterisk server. So open each account in a separate tab with your web browser. To keep things simple, we're going to assume that you'll be using your Gizmo5 account to connect to your Asterisk server. In Asterisk lingo, the Gizmo5 account looks like any other DID on your Asterisk system.

FreePBX Setup for Gizmo5. If you've run the Orgasmatron Installer, you'll have a new Gizmo5 Integration option under the Setup tab. When you click on that option, you have the choice of either creating a new Gizmo5 account or using your existing account. Fill in the blanks to activate or create your new Gizmo5 account.

Once you've logged in, click Gizmo5 Integration Main Page. Choose Send all calls (except local extensions) through Gizmo5 and click Update Outbound Routes. For the time being, make certain that you have a default inbound route that rings one or more functioning extensions on your Asterisk system. You have to be able to answer an incoming call to complete the next steps. Finally, click on the Outbound Routes option. In the far right column, move the Gizmo5 entry to the top of the list and reload your dialplan when prompted.

If you're using a FreePBX-based system that doesn't have the Gizmo5 Integration option, you'll first need to establish an account at Gizmo5.com by downloading one of the softphones and signing up. After you have completed the sign up process, be sure that you disable automatic startup of the softphone. You can't have your Asterisk system AND the softphone registering to the same Gizmo5 account!

Next, using FreePBX, Add a new Trunk named Gizmo5. For the Peer Details, insert the following using your actual Gizmo5 phone number and password:


Leave the Incoming Settings section blank and then enter the Registration String using your actual Gizmo5 phone number and password:


Save your settings and reload your dialplan when prompted.

Next, create a Default Inbound Route so that calls from Google Voice will be routed to extensions on your server. Then, create an Outbound Route called OutGizmo with NXXNXXXXXX and 1NXXNXXXXXX as the Dial Patterns and Gizmo5 as the main Trunk Sequence . Move this route to the top of your outbound routes to assure that U.S. calls are placed using the Gizmo5 trunk. Reload your dialplan when prompted.

Finally, log into your Asterisk server as root and insert the following lines at the end of extensions_custom.conf in the /etc/asterisk directory. Then reload the dialplan: asterisk -rx "dialplan reload"

exten => s,1,Set(DID_EXTEN=${SIP_HEADER(To):5})
exten => s,n,Set(DID_EXTEN=${CUT(DID_EXTEN,@,1)})
exten => s,n,Goto(from-trunk,${DID_EXTEN},1)

Google Voice Setup. Log into your Google Voice account and click Settings, Phones, Add Another Phone. This forwarding phone number should be the DID that you want Google Voice to call when you have incoming calls on your Google Voice number. Again, to keep things simple, add your Gizmo5 phone number (747XXXXXXX) and select Gizmo as the Phone Type. You then will be prompted to place a test call and provide a 2-digit number to verify that the number is working. Answer the extension on your Asterisk system when it rings and enter the 2-digit code that's provided.

Gizmo5 Configuration. Log in to your Gizmo5 account using your 1747XXXXXXX account number or username and password. In the new Google Voice section of the form, insert your Google Voice email address and password. This is the email address you used to set up your Google Voice account. Choose "Use for U.S. calls only" and then click SAVE.

July 29 Update. Since this article was released, Gizmo5 has reduced the allowable calling time from unlimited to 20 minutes. Then today it was reduced to 3 minutes. That may be as long as you like to talk on the phone, but it's a major change from what was initially introduced 3 short days ago. Looks like we'll dust off our original article after all. Stay tuned...

Deals of the Week. The nation's premier provider of free directory assistance service, 1-800-FREE-411, now is offering free 5-minute phone calls to most destinations around the world. Just listen to two quick commercials and enjoy your free call. Thanks, @MichiganTelephone. And now you can send free SMS messages worldwide from your iPhone. Thanks, @TruVoIP. Finally, AT&T has the refurbished 8GB iPhone 3G for $49 with a two-year contract.

Originally published: July 26, 2009

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  1. It’s my first try, and I can call USA number directly from my Asterisk Extension (hook to ATA/softphone).

    I didn’t notice that Gizmo now has the new Section named Google Voice. Once you enter your gmail account, no worry.

    Wow, the feeling of making free calls to USA is fantastic. No more spending on Magic Jack or other VoIP Provider.

    Regarding DTMF issues, I will test it and let you know the results.

    Once again, I really appreciate your great work.


    Bao Nguyen

  2. So all you pay is 3.99 a month?

    [WM: Where did you come up with that? You don’t pay anything a month. Nada. Zilch. Zero.]

  3. I’m curious about the alternative method you had planned to write about.

    This method seems to work, but I don’t want to give Gizmo my Google credentials. Also I have had inconsistent results in my testing this morning. Sometimes it takes 30-45 seconds for the call to complete; once it dialed me back as if I were using the web dialer. DTMF wasn’t passing through correctly. I’ve had Gizmo configured for a long time and DTMF works there. I would suspect the DTMF issues to be a GV problem.

    [WM: GV=Gizmo for practical purposes. Gizmo is handling all of their VoIP work. We wish there had been a separate set of credentials between Gizmo and Google Voice, too. We’re send them a letter about it while this still is in beta. Our alternate solution was slower connecting than today’s approach so it wouldn’t help you there.]

  4. You don’t need to download the softphone to sign up. Just sign up on Gizmo5’s website during the "Gizmo5 Configuration" step.

  5. Been using GV/Gizmo for inbound for some time. Just configured for outbound calls and added outbound trunk. When I call out I see it connect via the Gizmo5 trunk, I then get an inbound call from Gizmo that connects to the number I called — strange. Anyone else seen this behavior?

    [WM: Be sure to reconfigure the FreePBX trunk using the settings in the article and complete the other steps to take advantage of Google Voice free calling. Then try again.]

  6. Why do I need Gizmo for dialout, is there any way to have this proxy installed by myself without using Gizo? How long do you think this relation Gizmo->Google works?

  7. Gizmo’s website indicates that all calls are currently limited to 20 minutes. It also indicates that this is experimental. Here’s to hoping that it lasts longer than the free calls to mobile providers (except AT&T) from a few months back.

    From their website once auth’d with a Google Voice account:

    "Google Voice – Experimental Service Learn more at: http://www.gizmovoice.com

    Google Voice Calling is ON

    (Calls are limited to 20 minutes, service subject to change)"

    This is with an outbound $ credit.

  8. Since our original article was published, there’s been a Gizmogrification of the terms of service. You’ll have to judge for yourself whether this is a deal breaker in your own particular circumstances:

  9. There was an issue with the Gizmo Symbian client on the Nokia phones. It still was charging for outbound calls in the U.S. We reported this about noon yesterday, and it was resolved by early this afternoon. Most impressive!

  10. I’m seeing inconsistent results from this.

    It works as expected about 1/3 of the time. The other 2/3 of the time it screws up. When I dial a call, it shows that the call is going out through the Gizmo5 trunk and then I receive an inbound call from my Google Voice number. If I answer that call, it initiates the outbound call just like it does when you dial via the web interface.

    I’m really curious as to why this happens intermittently. The 20-minute call limit is kind of a downer but otherwise this would be a great service if it worked consistently.

    I’m using a Trixbox CE install (2.8.0) and have the Gizmo5 trunk configured as described in this post. Incoming calls work great. It’s just outbound calls via Gizmo+GV that are inconsistent.

    [WM: Give them a few days. They got hammered today. I wouldn’t draw any conclusions from Day 1. Kinda like eating in a restaurant the first night they’re open.]

  11. I agree wholeheartedly. When the word "experimental" was featured prominently on the setup page, I knew better than to expect 100% out-of-the-gate.

    The success rate is around 85% for me today for outbound calls (inbound has been at 100% reliability since I set up GV+Gizmo5 last week). The majority of my outbound calls are working properly now. I’m still getting the occasional failure where an outbound call results in an incoming call from GV, though.

    I am happy with sound quality and I’m looking forward to continued improvement in service reliability. I’m not enough of a Pollyanna to believe that I’ll never see an actual pricetag attached to this service but even when that comes, I expect it to be reasonable.

  12. I was having the same problem as others (second call back to gizmo as if using the web interface). I set up asterisk to force the callerID info on the outgoing connection to my Gizmo number (1747xxxxxxx) and I haven’t had the second call come in since!

  13. looks like gizmo gv calling is now limited to 3 minutes, at least on my account. lame, not even really worth it now.

    [WM: Yeah. Unlimited to 20 minutes to 3 minutes in less than 3 days. Should be down to microseconds by the weekend. 🙂 ]

  14. Nice. Seeing the same 3 minutes on my account as well.

    I’m sorry, but I have yet to have 1 good single experience with Gizmo5. As far as I am concerned, they are just about worthless.

    They have given ZERO reason to ever trust them with any of my paid phone services — in fact, they have given me at least 3 reasons in as many months to NEVER trust them with any phone service of importance. Sad — they could have been one of the greats.

    This is smelling too much like the go-round with their "free calls to all mobile carriers!!" stint that lasted all of about 5 minutes.

    Any chance of pulling some more strings with Craig Walker to see if GV is willing to interface with any other SIP services? Being able to define an asterisk server by IP or other AUTH info would be the ideal solution.

  15. seems to work ok for calls to US numbers, but when calling my GV number, I get no voice prompts whatsoever — and I assume that means no voicemail access via Gizmo?

  16. It is obvious that Gizmo is logging into your Google Voice account and using the web interface to initiate the call. That’s why they need the username and password. Couldn’t an script for this be made in asterisk? Idk.

    I wonder if the traffic made them implement a call limit, or if Google is on their back.

    [WM: We’re working on a stand-alone version for Asterisk. Should be ready in a few days. Don’t think Google is on their back. Sounds like they’re in the process of starting to charge for using Google’s free service. That would appear to violate Google’s TOS.]

  17. I’ve been discussing another odd issue over on the TrixBox forums. Inbound calls cannot be sent directly to an IVR or Announcement unless you set "Pause Before Answer" to "3″ in the incoming route or the call just disappears into the void. This is only for calls from Google Voice. Calls from other Gizmo5 users can be safely sent to an IVR or Announcement directly.

    I also noticed that Gizmo5 sends different DID information depending on whether the call is coming in from Google Voice or from another Gizmo5 user. For calls coming in from Google Voice, the DID is your entire 11-digit Gizmo5 number (1747XXXXXXX) whereas incoming calls from other Gizmo5 users only present 10 digits (747XXXXXXX). This can be a blessing since it means you can set different inbound routes for each… especially helpful if you need to add the Pause Before Answer delay for the GV calls.

  18. I just noticed on the GizmoVoice page, they’ve changed the pricing comparison on the right sidebar. Two days ago they were comparing the cost of Skype versus GizmoVoice showing that GizmoVoice was, essentially, free at $0.00/minute. Now it says $0.02/minute.

    At that rate, I’m better off with a FutureNine outbound-only trunk for $0.01/minute. Especially given the reliability issues.

  19. Interestingly enough, I’ve also noticed the 20 minute, then 3 minute, then $.02 changes, yet I’ve actually not *experienced* any limitations in sending/receiving calls.

    So it’s possible that they’re initially just putting text for limitations in place? or are they just inept at actually applying their own limitations?

  20. I had an email exchange with Michael Robertson regarding the changes in Gizmo/Google Voice. (Michael is the guy behind Lindows/Linspire as well as Gizmo and various other projects).

    He advised me that the calls are being routed over Gizmo’s lines, and not Google’s and this is the reason for the $.02 a minute. He also advised me that they are working on ways to address the security/privacy issue resulting from the Google log in credentials.

    I will say that Michael Robertson has a long history of doing interesting and innovative projects, and I am not aware of anything that would cause me to distrust him. It was because I knew "who Gizmo was" that I signed up for the interface and gave them my password.

    That said, when the post here "knocked me up aside my head" I did get to thinking about my Google Checkout info, and changed my password and disabled the service. I still plan to try Gizmo for communication with Skype users. As for Google Voice, I will wait to see what you guys figure out.

    Just thought I would pass this on FWIW.

  21. Ahhh, Lindows/Linspire, and now "Gizmo Voice"… it all ties together… The guy innovates services that advertise no cost, and then slides in a cost afterwards.

    Sounds like scams to me.

  22. I’m not sure if you misunderstood him or if he’s misrepresenting the facts but the calls most certainly do go over Google’s lines. Gizmo is not routing the calls directly to their destination. They are merely initiating the callback/link. Sure, the calls are ALSO traveling over Gizmo’s lines but saying that they’re not traveling over Google’s lines is inaccurate.

    Now, if they really were handling the calls themselves (and just presenting your GV number as the CID) then I’d say it’s perfectly fair for them to charge their 2¢/minute. Given the fact that their solution is merely an automation of what you’re currently able to do for free by initiating a call from the Google Voice web interface, I would say that a per-minute charge is unreasonable. I could see them justifying a 2¢ per call charge for the convenience of automating the call setup but not a 2¢ per minute charge.

  23. I have had very negative experiences with Michael Robertson’s mp3tunes service, and have read lots of negative stuff in the context of the slow mutation of Linspire before it was sold.

    For this reason I created a new Gmail account before trying this Gizmo/GVoice mash-up, and signed up for GVoice with this separate account.

    However this still would permit Gizmo, if they are so inclined, to use your GVoice number for unintended purposes.

  24. Google would be way better off if they offered this in conjunction with IP authorizations and services such as VoxaLot which would not be competing for those minutes.

    Apparently they want to, it is SIPPhone/Gizmo that is hindering them.

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