How To: Use Google Voice and OBi for all your calls (free)

Over the past few years, the VoIP do-it-yourself crowd has built — and shared with others — ingenious methods that give the trusty telephone greater power while driving down the price of its use.

The OBi110

The OBi110

Most recently, some have focused much attention on getting Google Voice — and its free US and Canada calling and incoming telephone number (which Google has promised will continue to be free till 2012) — to work on any regular home phone.

Until now, Google Voice on your phone was doable, but only for those willing to dedicate a computer to act as an always-on Linux server hosting the open source Asterisk PBX (along with the FreePBX Asterisk GUI) and to immerse themselves in arcane configuration settings. There are several guides online that help the adventurous set up Asterisk/FreePBX and Google Voice from scratch (one of the best is published by the excellent Michigan Telephone blog). Be forewarned: This is not for the typical home user.

There’s good news if you’re a technology mortal and want to use Google Voice as your everyday phone service — and given it’s price and high quality, why would you not want to?

Obihai Technnology’s recently released OBi110 (which we wrote about in this story) easily brings Google Voice and its full range of free connectivity services to the broadband-connected home.

In this how-to, we show you how to set it all up, step-by-easy-step.

One caveat: Google Voice does not offer emergency calling services so you cannot use it to dial “911″ in an emergency. The final step of this guide, shows you how you can add Enhanced 911 service (or E911, which automatically associates a physical address to the caller’s telephone number) to your set-up for $1.50/month — or free, if you have a POTS line or are fortunate to live in an area where the PSTN carrier is required to provide E911 even when the phone service is disconnected.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Some kind of broadband Internet service;
  • Any analog telephone or your wireless phone system (such as DECT). A SIP phone can be made to work but requires a bit of tweaking we will cover in a future Voxilla How-To;
  • A Google Gmail account (one that ends in “@gmail.com”) to set up your free Google Voice account;
  • An OBi110 Analog Telephone Adaptor ($50).

You have all that? Let’s get started. Unpack your OBi and follow these steps:


Blue Bullet 1

Locate your unique 9-digit OBi number on the bottom of the OBi110 and write it down as you are certain to be using it later (like to call other OBi users’ numbers for free without any kind of service).

 

OBi110 inputs

Obi 110 inputs. From left to right: line, phone, Ethernet, and power.

 

Blue Bullet 2

Connect the OBi100.

The device has four rear inputs (from left to right: the “Line”, the “Phone”, the “Internet” and the “Power” inputs. Plug in an Ethernet cable connected to your network on the “Internet” jack. Plug in an analog phone or, better yet, the base station of a DECT system, into the phone plug. If you are among the ever-shrinking number of people with a PSTN line, you’re fortunate: Connect your traditional phone service to the line port and you have access to emergency calling services through your OBi (we discuss other ways of bringing E911 to your set-up in Step 9). Connect the power cord, power it up and you’re done.

 

Blue Bullet 3

Make a test call.

Obihai has a nifty testing service that lets you make a free 3-minute phone call anywhere in the US or Canada from any OBi connected to the Internet (even with no phone service installed on it). Pick up the phone you’ve attached to the OBi and you should have immediate dial tone. Dial “**9 333 333 333″ and you’ll be connected the auto attendant on an OBi110 hosted by Obihai. Press “2″ at the prompt to place another call, then dial a US or Canada number (1 plus a number) and hit the pound key. If all is correct, you’ve completed your first OBi call.

A second way of testing the OBi is to use Obihai’s echo test (you say a few words and they are played back to you) by dialing “**9 222 222 222″.

Now, let’s move on to the powerful stuff.

 

Blue Bullet 4

If you have a Google Voice account you would like to use with OBi:

If you already have Google Voice and you access the service with a username ending in “@gmail.com”, you may skip right to Step 6.

The OBi works its connectivity magic with Google Voice through the XMPP open standards communications protocol (formerly known as “Jabber”) employed by Google Talk, the company’s IM chat offering. But Google Talk currently works only with Gmail accounts that end in “@gmail.com.” So, if you’re using Google Voice with a non Gmail address, or even a Google App domain hosted through Gmail, the easiest thing to do is to create a new Google Voice account, with a new incoming phone number. (UPDATE: Use of the OBi with a Google Voice account that ends in something other than “@gmail.com” is now supported.). Though there is speculation the company plans to do so, Google does not currently offer the ability to port anything other than your U.S.-based cellular telephone number to its Voice service. (UPDATE: Moments after this story was first published, Google announced that it is offering number porting for a one time fee of $20. Read more about it at this Google blog post.). To set up a new Google Voice account, skip to Step 5.

If you want to keep using your current Google Voice phone number (for example, you scored a coveted 212, 213 or 415 number before Google ran out of those area codes) and are prepared to wait up to two weeks (though it usually takes a day or two), you can request that Google transfer your account to a Gmail address by filling out a “Request to allow Google Voice account transfer” form. Once you’ve received the account transfer approval from Google, go to Step 6.

 

Blue Bullet 5

If you need to set up a new Google Voice account:

Technically, all you need to make calls over Google with your OBi is a Gmail account ending in “@gmail.com.” If you follow the remainder of this How-To, ommiting the steps creating a Google Voice account, you will be able to make free calls throught the US and Canada and very cheap international calls. However, without a Google Voice account, you will not be able to receive calls on an OBi-connected phone and call recipients will see incorrect Caller ID information.

So, let’s set up Google Voice.

If you don’t have an “@gmail.com” account, go get one for free at http://gmail.com. Then, make your way to Google Voice, log in using your “@gmail.com” account, and go through the simple steps to create your free account. Select your number, the 4-digit code you will use to retrieve voice mail; and add a forwarding number for Google Voice to send your calls to.

Though you will probably not use Google Voice’s call forwarding with your OBi, it is a step you must complete to set up your account. Use any number you have immediate access to as Google will present you with an authentication code you will be asked to enter upon receiving an automated verification call. Once your forwarding number is verified, and you’ve clicked “Finish” on the final screen, your account is set up.

 

Blue Bullet 6

Forward your incoming calls to Google Talk

This is the step that allows the telephone attached to your OBi to be used for calls to your Google Voice number. Make sure you are logged in at http://google.com/voice. Click on the “Settings” link on the upper left, and select “Voice settings” on the pull down menu that appears. The settings should open directly on the “Phones” tab (if not, select “Phones”.)

Now, select the checkbox that forwards calls to Google Chat. If you want your Google Voice calls to also be sent to the forwarding number you selected when creating your account, keep that option selected and, when receiving calls on your Google Voice account, both your OBi-connected phone and forwarding phone (your cell phone, for example) will ring concurrently. You may also add other phone numbers for your calls to be forwarded to on this page.

 

Blue Bullet 7

Get Google Voice on your OBi

Obihai provides three different methods to get Google Voice on an OBi110. We’ll cover all three (but recommend the third):

A. The easiest

This method will get you up and running in very short order, but is recommended only the first time you are installing service on your OBi as it overwrites any existing service on the device. First, you will need your OBi’s local IP address. Pick up the phone attached to the device, dial “***1″, and an automated voice will read it to you. Now, go to Obihai’s Account Configuration Wizard for Google Voice at http://www.obihai.com/itspConfiguration/itspConfiguration-googlevoice.html.

In the corresponding fields, enter the device’s local IP address, your Gmail user name (either your full Gmail address or just the part before “@gmail.com”), and your Gmail password. You can keep the other fields at their default settings. When you click “Configure”, your OBi will reboot and Google Voice will be set up as Service Provider 1, overwriting all other settings.

You can skip to Step 8.

B. The most complex

Expert users — particularly those accustomed to configuring Sipura/Cisco IP telephone devices — may feel most comfortable with this method. It uses the complete configuration tool that resides on the OBi110 itself. It’s significantly more complex than the other two methods, but it provides access to some 400 settings not available through the other two methods (394 of which we will not be covering in this particular How-To).

Point your browser to the device’s local IP address, which you can get by dialing “***1″ on the telephone attached to the OBi. Enter “admin” as the user name and, if this is the first time you are using the device, enter “admin” as the password. Anyone who has ever tweaked a Sipura or Cisco SPA series VoIP device (or Cisco PAP2) will recognize the pages that load. In this section, we’ll only be modifying five settings (though if you are sure you know what you are doing, you may want to poke around and carefully make other changes).

Setting up Google Voice with the OBi device configuration tool

Setting up Google Voice with the OBi device configuration tool.

For our purposes, we’ll assume you will be setting up Google Voice as the primary calling service on SP1, and that you will be using ITSP Profile A. If you wish to do something different, you may wish to consult the OBi110′s thorough Device Administration Guide (pdf file), particularly the sections about profiles.

Note: To change any setting on the device configuration tool, you must remove the checkbox from the “Default” column for that setting.

  • Voice Services/SP1 in the SIP Credentials section set AuthUserName to your Gmail email address (you may omit the “@gmail.com” if you wish);
  • Voice Services/SP1 in the SIP Credentials section set AuthPassword to your Gmail password;
  • Voice Services/SP1 in the Calling Features section set X_SkipCallScreening (way at the bottom) to enabled (checked). The need for this is explained fully in Step 8 below;

Important: Click the “Submit” button because, unlike with the SPA series devices, your settings changes are not remembered when you leave a page. You do not have to reboot the device yet, though>

  • ITSP Profile A/General set SignalingProtocol set to “Google Voice”;
  • ITSP Profile A/General set X_UseFixedDurationRFC2833DTMF to enabled (checked)

Now, click “Submit, then click “Reboot”. Google Voice is now on your OBi and you may proceed to Step 8.

C. The coolest

OBiTalk.com, Obihai’s polished user web portal, is constantly being improved and showcases much of the bridging, interoperability and point-to-point capabilities of the entire range of Obihai products: the OBi110, the upcoming $40 OBi100, the Windows soft-phone plug-in, and apps for the iPhone and Android platform (Obihai is now working on a softphone for the Mac Intel platform). It is definitely worth trying.

Point your browser to OBiTalk at http://obitalk.com, set up an account, verify the account through the email link you receive from Obihai, then log in to OBiTalk.com.

Click on the “Add device” link on the left sidebar. You will be instructed to connect your OBi to the Internet and connect a phone to the OBi. We’ve already done this so click on “Next”.

Now you’ll be instructed to pick up the phone attached to the OBi and dial **5 and four random digits within two minutes, and to hang up when you hear an automated response. Do do. Your browser will refresh OBiTalk.com, and you’ll see your OBi, its MAC address and serial number listed on the page. Click “Confirm”.

Though your OBi is now connected to OBiTalk, you should make a couple of small changes on OBiTalk to make your life easier. Click on the device, and make any changes you see fit on the screen that comes up. You may wish to give your device a new name, change the random password OBiTalk has assigned to your device’s built-in configuration (the “Webpage Admin Password” setting), and set your local time zone (Obihai will be adding a “Use Daylight Savings Time” checkbox to this OBiTalk page soon). Click “Save Changes” and wait a few seconds for your OBi to reboot.

Once rebooted, you should upgrade to the most recent OBi100 firmware if needed. Click on “OBi Dashboard” and you should get a screen like this:

The OBi Dashboard in OBiTalk shows a device (named OBiToo) in need of a firmware update.

In the image above, you will notice a gold pyramid with an exclamation point on the “Action” field for your device. If you see this on your OBiTalk screen, then you are running outdated firmware. Click on the pyramid, then and click “OK to update automatically” and your OBi will upgrade itself in the background in about 60 seconds. Do not disconnect your OBi during this time.

After your device reboots itself with new firmware, click on “OBi Dashboard” in the left column, then click on your OBi device in the screen that opens. At the bottom of the screen there are links for “Service Provider 1″ and “Service Provider 2″. You can install two entirely separate services (Google Voice and Voice Pulse, for example) on the OBi, or even two separate Google Voice accounts, giving you a tremendous amount of bridging and sharing power we will cover shortly in a future How-to.

If you have already configured a service provider you wish to overwrite with Google Voice, you will need to click on the red “X” at the end of the line listing the service you wish to overwrite, and confirm its deletion.

Click on “Service Provider 1″ or “Service Provider 2″. You will see a list of eight services Obihai has prepared configuration wizards, and a link for a “Generic Service Provider”. Select “Google Voice” and you will see a page that looks like this:

Adding Google Voice to the OBI using OBiTalk

Adding Google Voice to the OBI using OBiTalk

If you wish to make this the primary line to make calls (a good idea else you will have to prefix your outgoing Google Voice calls with “**1″ or “**2″, depending which service provider field you chose), then select the check box. For Gmail Username, enter your Gmail address, or just the part before “@gmail.com” (OBi will figure it out if you omit the domain name). Enter your Gmail password. If you followed this how-to, you can safely ignore the warning on the bottom about having to “have made at least one call from your Gmail account’s ‘Call Phone’ function,” as it is not really required. Click “Submit”.

You should now be able to make and receive calls on your Google Voice account OBi-attached telephone. Go ahead and try it. (Note: In some cases, it may take a few minutes — up to about 10 — before calls to your Google Voice numbers ring on the attached phone).

 

Blue Bullet 8

Overcome an incoming call annoyance

Update – February 16, 2011: This section of the How-To is no longer valid as Obihai Technology has simplified configuration through both the configuration wizard and ObiTalk.com. Now, setting up Google Voice on the OBi using these methods (7A and 7C above) automatically enables the “X_SkipCallScreening” setting. You may now safely skip Step 8, though it remains online here for those interested.

Note: If you used the built-in device configuration tool as described in Step 7 (“The most complex”) you may skip this section and move on to Step 9.

When your Google Voice number is dialed and you pick up the call on the phone attached to the Google Voice-enabled OBi, you will be prompted to press 1 to accept the call or press 2 to send it to voice mail. The prompt is sent by Google Voice and, unfortunately, there is no way of bypassing it from the Google Voice settings. Fortunately, Obihai has a provided a work-around to the problem, accessible through the device configuration tool (expect to see the following as a setting on the OBiTalk page shortly).

First, you will need to know the internal IP address of your OBi. You can easily get this by picking up the phone attached to the device, dial “***” to get to the OBi “device configuration menu”, then select option “1″. Your IP address will be read back to you.

Enter the IP address on your browser and you will be prompted for a user name and password. For the user name, enter “admin”. The password is whatever you set in the “Webpage Admin Password” field for the device in OBiTalk (Step 7 above).

Click on the plus sign next to “Voice Services” in the left column to expand the menu, then select either “SP1″ or “SP2″, which ever service provider you chose to put Google Voice on in OBiTalk (in Step 8). Scroll to the bottom of the screen.

X_SkipCallScreening

The Obi SP1/SP2 configuration. X_SkipCallScreening is at bottom

The bottom setting on this page is called “X_SkipCallScreening”. Click and uncheck the blue box under the “Default” heading for this setting, then click and check the box under the “Value” tab. The settings should look like the image above.

Click the “Submit” button, at the bottom, click “OK” to submit the changes, then click the “Reboot” button at the top right of the screen. in a few seconds your OBi will reboot and the annoying call screening prompt will be effectively removed.

 

Blue Bullet 9

Getting Emergency Calling (i.e.: e911) to work (optional)

Fewer do each passing day, but if you still have a regular old POTS line at home (or even an analog telephone adaptor connected to a VoIP service provider that offers E911 such as VoicePulse, Vonage, and cable services such as CableVision, Comcast and Time Warner), and you connect the service to the “Line” port on the OBi, you won’t have to do anything to get emergency calling service. By default, the OBi will send any “911″ call through whatever is connected on its “Line” port. (Note: In many regions within the United States, even a disconnected POTS line may work with 911 calling services — but please check with your local carrier to make sure).

If you don’t have E911 coming into your home, there are several VoIP services available that offer low-cost emergency services calling. One such service is offered by popular pay-as-you-go VoIP provider CallCentric for $1.50 per month (there is also a one-time e911 setup fee). If you sign up for the company’s Pay-Per-Call plan, and fill your account with a minimum of $5, you can add the 911 service and the fee will be deducted from your deposit.

There is a small catch: Unless you have a spare VoIP adaptor to install the Callcentric (or other provider’s) service on (in which case you should simply connect the “Phone” port on the external ATA to the “Line” port on the OBi using a basic telephone cable), you will have to dedicate one of the Service Provider ports (SP1, or most likely, SP2) solely to 911.

To configure it, add the service provider to SP2 using any of the methods illustrated above (OBiTalk, which comes with pre-configuration for 8 service providers, including Callcentric, is the easiest method).

To ensure that 911 calls over the OBi are routed correctly, connect to the device via the built-in configuration tool (point your browser to the OBi’s local IP address) and make a small change to the long dial string setting located at Physical Interfaces/Phone Port/OutboundCallRoute. The default setting is:

{(< #:>|911):li},{**0:aa},{***:aa2},{(Mpli):pli},{(< **1:>(Msp1)):sp1},{(< **2:>(Msp2)):sp2},{(< **8:>(Mli)):li},{(< **9:>(Mpp)):pp}

Uncheck the “Default” box on the right, and make the following small change to the long string: Change the first instance of “li” to “sp2″. The result will be this string:

{(< #:>|911):sp2},{**0:aa},{***:aa2},{(Mpli):pli},{(< **1:>(Msp1)):sp1},{(< **2:>(Msp2)):sp2},{(< **8:>(Mli)):li},{(< **9:>(Mpp)):pp}

Click “Submit” and “Reboot” the device.

Ideally, we could easily test 911 calling. Unfortunately, ensuring that 911 calling works on your OBi is a bit problematic. Calling 911 as a test is highly frowned upon by emergency service operators, and is even illegal in some states. The only surefire way to test 911 is to call your local law enforcement agency’s non-emergency number, hope to get someone on the phone that understands what you are trying to accomplish, and schedule a 911 call. It’s a bit of a hassle, but definitely encouraged.

When you’re done, you’ll have a complete phone system, with it’s own phone number(s), free phone calls throughout the US and Canada, voice mail, call forwarding and dozens of other “premium” services, for pennies. And you’ll help speed along the landline’s obsolescence. Good riddance.

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