NOTE: The following article has nothing to do with genealogy. If you are looking for genealogy articles, I suggest you skip this one. However, I am always looking for ways to save money or to make life easier. When I find something that I feel is worthwhile, I often share my discoveries in this newsletter. This article describes one such discovery.I have written several times about the free phone service available from Google Voice (see my past articles by beginning at http://goo.gl/85hom). The FREE service allows you to accomplish a number of things, including:
- Direct dial phone calls to to any telephone in the USA and Canada for free!
- Direct dial phone calls to to any telephone in other countries at very low international rates.
- Use a regular telephone, along with an Analog Telephone Adaptor-type VoIP device (such as those described later in this article). There is no need to wear headphones, you can use any standard telephone.
- many cool features, including voicemail transcription, on-line voicemail, contact management, international calling, etc.
Google Voice provides several methods of using the service. In fact, Google Voice is not a replacement for your present phone. Instead, it works in conjunction with your present telephone to add additional features not provided by your local telephone company or cell phone company. For more details about Google Voice, see my earlier articles, starting at http://goo.gl/85hom, or view the Google Voice videos at http://www.google.com/googlevoice/about.html.
I have long been experimenting with different methods of using Google Voice. The default method requires the user to open a web browser, go to http://www.google.com/voice, log in, and then specify the number to call. The user's normal telephone (wired phone, cell phone, or VoIP Internet phone) then rings. Upon answering that phone, the user hears Google dialing the other number and, when the other party answers, the other party is connected to the user's regular phone. The calls are not placed through the user's computer, and there is no need to wear headphones. However, that default method is but one of several possible methods of using Google Voice. I have been experimenting with some other methods and have found one method I like much better than the default.
With this method, I don't even need a computer, other than during the initial set-up. I can turn my computer off and leave it off, although I do have to leave the broadband modem/router in my home turned on all the time. I also don't need any other telephone, besides the one that I dedicate to Google Voice. My method isn't completely free: I did have to buy some hardware. Once installed in my home, everything was free after that. My total investment was about $40 plus an old cordless telephone I already had. This set-up paid for itself in two months as I didn't have to pay $25 a month or so to the local phone company.
If you feel this method is worth a shot, I would suggest you not disconnect your phone company's service immediately. Instead, you might want to try this low-cost service in your home for a month or more as a second line to see how it works for you. After you have gained some experience, you might want to kiss your phone company good-bye and switch to this free service. If not, you can continue to use Google Voice as a second line. Anyone with teenagers in the house will appreciate a second phone line that is free! Well, free after some hardware has been purchased.
NOTE #1: One drawback is that Google Voice cannot port your present phone number to the new service. You will have to advise your friends and acquaintances of your new phone number.To obtain free (after initial hardware purchases) phone service, you will need the following:
NOTE #2: Once everyone has your new number, it can become the only number they need to use. On incoming calls, Google Voice will SIMULTANEOUSLY ring up to five phone numbers. For instance, it could ring your home phone, your cell phone, your office phone, and the other phone line in your home. You can answer by picking up any of the ringing phones and saying "Hello." The incoming call is instantly switched to the phone you use to answer.
NOTE #3: Google Voice does not provide 911 or any other emergency calling. I solved this by putting the local emergency police, fire, and ambulance dispatcher's regular number (not 911) in my phone's speed-dial button #1. This works well for me as I know about it; but, it is not going to work for any visitor to my home that doesn't know about the "special" method of calling for emergency services.
1. A broadband Internet connection of at least 512 kilobits (one-half megabit) per second, both upstream and downstream. Most broadband Internet connections are faster than that. However, you might want to first test your connection at http://www.speedtest.net/ or some other Internet connection test system to make sure your Internet connection is fast enough.I purchased the cheapest OBi100 VoIP Telephone Adapter and Voice Service Bridge and am pleased with it. If I had a regular phone line installed in the house, I probably would have purchased the OBi110 VoIP Phone Adapter with a standard phone port plus Internet voice. That way I could use one telephone on both the standard telephone company's service and on Google Voice. I cannot imagine why I would ever want the more expensive OBi202 VoIP Phone Adapter with Router, 2-Phone Ports in my home.
2. Any standard telephone, corded or cordless. Google Voice will not provide you with a telephone; you have to supply your own. You can use that old Princess phone that has been sitting in the closet for ten years, or you can go out and buy the latest whiz-bang phone. Your choice. I would suggest not purchasing a phone that has a built-in answering machine as that will only duplicate the service from Google Voice. Besides, the Google Voice answering system is better: it will even transcribe messages left for you and send them to you via email and cell phone text messages. You can be notified immediately of any new voice mail messages, wherever you are.
3. Any ONE of the following:a. OBi100 VoIP Telephone Adapter and Voice Service Bridge, about $40 from Amazon (at http://goo.gl/lRo8b) and elsewhere. This is a single line adapter that works with any one computer phone service, such as Google Voice. It can also be used on most any other Internet voice services, but only one service can be configured. I use mine on Google Voice.4. An active Google Voice account, available free of charge at http://www.google.com/voice.
b. OBi110 Voice Service Bridge and VoIP Telephone Adapter, about $50 from Amazon (at http://goo.gl/1BzKU) and elsewhere. This is almost identical to the OBi100 mentioned earlier except it adds an (optional) connector to a regular telephone service. This allows your one telephone to work with two services: both with Google Voice and with the local telephone company.
c. OBi202 VoIP Phone Adapter with Router, 2-Phone Ports, T.38 Fax, about $72 from Google (at http://goo.gl/G0dyA) and elsewhere. This is similar to the OBi100 and OBi110 mentioned earlier except it adds connections to TWO standard phone lines, plus it also handles up to four VoIP services, including Google's free Google Voice communications service plus a multitude of SIP Internet phone services (Anveo, Callcentric, VoIP.ms, and dozens of others). The OBi202 strikes me as "overkill" for the typical in-home user but could be useful in the office.
Installation was rather simple although the included instructions were a bit cryptic. Luckily, I found clear, step-by-step installation instructions, complete with videos of the installation process, at http://www.wimaxatl.com/2011/08/how-to-setup-google-voice-as-landline.html. I was making phone calls within ten minutes or so after I unpacked the new OBi100 device.
Operation is equally simple:
To call out, simply pick up the local phone and dial 1 plus the area code plus the number. To call a telephone outside the U.S., dial 011, then the country code, and then the number. In short, it works just like any other phone in the U.S.
For incoming calls, the caller must call your assigned Google Voice number (which I now give to everyone as my ONLY number). When the phone rings, pick it up and say "hello." In short, it works just like any other phone in the U.S.
The voice quality has been excellent. One caller even remarked that that my new system sounded better than a regular telephone. Disclaimer: voice quality depends upon the speed of your Internet connection. If you are using it on a slower connection and are also downloading files or streaming movies at the same time, the voice quality might degrade. I haven't seen any problems yet on my faster-than-average Internet connection.
I also like the fact that the phone service is portable. When moving to my summer home up north, to the winter home in the sunbelt, or to a hotel while on a business trip, I can pack the phone and the OBi adapter in my suitcase and take my phone with me. When reaching my destination, I do have to plug the OBi adapter into a working broadband connection to the Internet. The phone number remains the same. I do not need to notifiy all my friends and associates of a new phone number.
Best of all, I like the price: zero for incoming calls and zero for calls made to the U.S. and Canada and no monthly charges. Overseas calls are cheap, such as two cents per minute to England, two cents a minute for calls to Australia, and even two cents per minute for calls to India or China. Calls to a few third world countries will cost more, but the charges will always be a fraction of what your local telephone company charges.
A list of all the rates to all countries is available at https://www.google.com/voice/rates.
You can learn more about Google Voice at http://www.google.com/voice.
There is another advantage to the OBi devices. Calls between these devices are always free of charge, regardless of location. If you want to make calls back to "the old country" and talk for hours and hours, simply buy two of the devices. You can purchase the OBi100, OBi110, or OBi202. They all communicate with each other. Keep one device for yourself and send the other one to your friend or relative back in "the old country." As long as he or she has a broadband connection, either device can call the other device over the Internet, and you can talk for hours and hours, free of charge. That is even cheaper than Google Voice.
The OBi100, OBi110, and OBi202 devices are not as powerful as some other online communications systems, such as Skype or Apple's FaceTime or Google Plus Hangouts. For instance, the OBi devices don't handle video. However, for ease of use and for good quality voice connections, it is hard to beat the OBi devices. Any family member can use these devices with Google Voice if that person knows how to use a regular telephone. Family members don't need to know anything about computers. No computer is required after initial set-up. In fact, if your friend in the foreign country only wishes to call you or perhaps some other OBi user(s), no set-up at all is required. These devices will call each other when taken out of the box and connected to the Internet. The set-up procedure is only used to configure the device to work with Google Voice or some other Internet VoIP service.
I am pleased with my OBi100 and bet you will also be pleased, should you buy one (or two).
Disclaimer: I am not paid to write this article and am receiving no compensation from anyone for it. I am simply a satisfied Google Voice and OBi100 customer and decided to share my experiences here for anyone who might be interested. I plan to keep my OBi100 device and use it for the majority of calls I make from home.