(+) A Better and Smarter Internet Phone

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Note: This article has nothing to do with genealogy. If you are looking for genealogy articles, I suggest you skip this one. However, this article reflects one of my other interests: telecommunications, especially low cost or no cost telephone service. Then again, genealogists do make many phone calls in pursuit of relatives and information. If you are interested in reducing your present telephone expenses, you may be interested in this article.

I have been a big fan of Google Voice for several years. It has always provided FREE telephone calls to any telephone in North America and very low-priced calls to other countries. Since I make a lot of telephone calls, Google Voice has saved me hundreds of dollars over the years.

Sadly, I am now very disappointed with Google. The company recently announced that it is canceling many of the features of Google Voice, including the telephone service I depend upon daily.

What is now called Google Voice originally was created by a start-up company called GrandCentral. I became a GrandCentral customer in 2005 and have saved hundreds of dollars in telephone charges since then. The service offered free telephone calls to all phones in North America. GrandCentral did not require headsets or any other “geeky” hardware. It worked with any standard telephone. The GrandCentral service turned out to be so good that Google purchased the company in 2007 and renamed it Google Voice. I continued to be a customer under the new ownership.

Google continued to expand the service and added new options. Google eventually added an API (application program interface) that allowed other companies to write new software that would work with Google Voice, adding even more functionality than what Google had envisioned.

I later purchased a device from Obihai Technology called an Obi, which uses the API in a small piece of hardware that converts any standard telephone into a high-quality VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephone for both incoming and outgoing calls. The OBi is a small adapter that connects a standard telephone to an Internet broadband connection. Calls are placed over the Internet instead of by standard telephone lines provided by a local telephone company.

The Google Voice telephone service has always been free, and calls are free to North America and available at very low cost to overseas countries. The combination of Google Voice and OBi required a broadband Internet connection instead of telephone wires. Otherwise, the new service was identical to a standard telephone except for one thing: the price. After purchasing the OBi, the monthly service and the calls to North America were all FREE. I was a happy user for several years; the service proved to be very reliable, and the audio connections were usually excellent.

Google recently threw a monkey wrench into this great, free service. While Google Voice will continue to work about the same as it did a few years ago, Google is removing the API. As a result, almost all products created by third-party companies, including the OBi, will no longer work. The very convenient, free services that use the API will end on May 15, 2014. My OBi will go dead on that date, and my telephone will no longer work unless I switch to something else.

NOTE: Obihai Technology is scrambling to modify the device to work with other low-cost VoIP providers. The modifications are not yet available, but the hope is to have one or more services in operation before the Google Voice “drop dead” date of May 15, 2014. Unlike Google Voice, the new service providers will not offer free services but will have prices that are only a fraction of equivalent telephone service offered by your local telephone company. You can read the details at http://blog.obihai.com/2013/10/important-message-about-google-voice.html.

I decided not to wait for future modifications. I have long been aware of another company that provides free telephone service, including free calls to any telephones in the United States, although not to Canadian phones. I decided I needed reliable telephone service all the time and didn’t want to hold out until the last minute in hopes that Obihai Technology could complete their work before the Google Voice “drop dead” date. I purchased a new device from the other company and have now been using it for several days.

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